Small-Business Group Hits Free-Trade Pacts; Current Policies Called 'Engines of Outsourcing'

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Byline: Steve Hirsch, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A major business group representing smaller companies is breaking ranks with its brethren and positioning itself against renewing President Bush's ability to negotiate free-trade deals without Congress changing them.

The U.S. Business and Industry Council, which says it represents America's "Main Street" companies, opposes current trade policies because it says those policies have been turned into "engines of outsourcing," according to Alan Tonelson, a research fellow with the organization.

Other, smaller groups are taking similar stands, but the U.S. Business and Industry Council, which represents 1,500 mainly small and medium-sized U.S. companies, is seen as the biggest and most established organization to make such a move.

Typically, major business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Foreign Trade Council and the U.S. Council for International Business support free-trade measures, while labor unions tend to oppose them.

The U.S. Business and Industry Council has been skeptical of U.S. trade policies going back to the 1930s, Mr. Tonelson said. That attitude has been strengthened since the North American Free Trade Agreement, because since then U.S. trade policies have turned into production-outsourcing policies, the group contends.

According to Mr. Tonelson, the United States has lost more than 3 million manufacturing jobs since 2000, with a "large percentage" of those losses a result of recent trade policy. In addition, he said, U.S. manufacturing output rose by 1.63 percent annually from 2000 through January of this year.

"That's really sluggish, and indicates that too much of the U.S. demand for manufactured goods lately has been satisfied by imports, not by domestic production," he said.

Council President Kevin L. Kearns has said that renewing trade-promotion authority would allow President Bush "to stay on a policy course that has racked up nearly $3.6 trillion in merchandise trade deficits, lost huge chunks of vital domestic manufacturing markets to imports and hemorrhaged millions of high-wage manufacturing jobs to foreign competitors. …