Vietnamese-trade bill deserves debate
Congress was wise to put the brakes on a bill that would have expedited normalization of trade relations with Vietnam.
House Republicans tried to push through a measure that required a two-thirds majority and would have limited debate. To the surprise of pundits, the measure failed. It received enough votes, however, to get a majority if introduced as a standard bill.
Many U.S. businesses would benefit from the bill, which would eliminate tariffs on most Vietnamese exports to the United States. The move would be a significant step toward international free trade.
Problem is, we don't know whether we want free trade, especially with Vietnam.
Even in the absence of free trade, Alabama catfish farmers have suffered from Vietnamese imports. Should those imports be banned, subjected to higher tariffs, or allowed to enter U.S. supermarkets with no obstacles?
The issue is not a simple one. Tariffs create domestic economic inefficiencies. They also penalize Vietnamese efforts at capitalism, an ideology we fought a war to promote. But free trade pits U.S. workers against underpaid Vietnamese workers, effectively undermining decades of progress in U.S. labor laws.
The point is we cannot deal with free trade issues on a country-by-country basis. Congress needs to thoroughly debate the pros and cons of free trade, relying upon the considerable data compiled in lieu of the North American and Central American free trade agreements, and decide on an approach that protects American workers without penalizing American consumers.
Free trade with Vietnam may be a good thing.
The issue is complex enough, however, that it deserves full debate in Congress.