The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) is rallying for free trade agreements during its huge US Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week, saying barrier-free trade with other countries is crucial to the growth of US jobs.
Support for free trade isn't as strong in Washington, DC, as it has been in past years, with several presidential candidates expressing concerns about free trade agreements, Gary Shapiro, the group's chief executive, said at a CES press conference on Monday.
Free trade is "something we've taken for granted as an industry," Shapiro said. "For the first time in my career, I am concerned about the future of free trade ... primarily because in Congress, on television and with some of our presidential candidates, free trade is not a given."
Shapiro, who has given his personal support to Republican Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, declined to single out presidential candidates who he saw as antitrade, but leading Democrats Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama have all expressed concerns about free trade agreements, often because of environmental concerns. Mike Huckabee, winner of the Iowa presidential caucuses on the Republican side, said in an October debate that the US doesn't have fair trade with other countries because "an American company is having to pay an extraordinarily high tax on everything they produce, but the countries who are exporting to us don't have the same border adjustability that we do."
But Shapiro and US Trade Representative Susan Schwab said on Monday that free trade agreements are critically important to the consumer electronics and IT industries.
"This is real money for real people in the United States," Schwab said during the CEA press conference from Las Vegas. "If there were ever a sector of the economy, if there were ever an industry, where you see the very, very clear converging of the benefits of free trade, of free markets and of the protection of intellectual property, this is it."
Shapiro and Schwab called on Congress to approve free trade agreements that are pending with Columbia, Panama and South Korea. Including a trade agreement with Peru approved by Congress in December, those four countries represent about 124 million consumers, Schwab said.
One reporter asked why US residents should support free trade when they see friends or relatives losing jobs to workers in other countries, imported toys containing chemicals that harm children, or pet food that kills dogs and cats.
Free trade can cause problems for a small number of workers, but many more US workers have jobs because of free trade, Shapiro said. Free markets have "temporary dislocations," but in the long term, countries cannot protect individual jobs in a global economy, he said. "A great country doesn't put up walls," Shapiro added.
Schwab said her office is working hard to crack down on imports of dangerous products. "Our responsibility as a government is, first and foremost, the health and safety of our citizens," she said.