Stubborn trade imbalances challenge America's role in the global economy. These imbalance and asymmetry problems grew more serious in the 1980s and 1990s. Between 1981 and 1997 the United States suffered a total of $2,000 billion in accumulated trade deficits, and $1,500 billion in current account (balance of payments) deficits. As a result, the U.S. transformed itself from the world's largest creditor nation (+$325 billion) to become the biggest debtor country (-$1,250 billion) in these years. Because of weak U.S. trade policy, the U.S. suffered a net loss of at least 10-12 million manufacturing jobs, substantially reduced economic growth, and painful demoralization in some areas. With a stronger, reciprocity-based trade policy, U.S. GNP would have been 10-20 percent higher. 1 Instead, weak U.S. trade policies increased the nation's structural unemployment, long-term poverty, and aggravated crime. Enhanced inequalities and social conflict followed for many communities. In addition, the U.S. industrial, technology, and mobilization base has been weakened by this failure to enforce reasonable reciprocity and by all these excessive, and really unnecessary, trade and current account deficits.
Also, many U.S. environmental and consumer interests insist that important U.S. trade concessions, especially in the GATT 1994 and WTO agreements, undermine a generation of hard-won progress in setting higher standards for U.S. environmental protection and regulatory supervision. 2 Thus, weak U.S. trade bargaining eroded responsible safeguards for the environment and consumer protection in the United States and abroad. The problem is that multinational corporations ( MNCs) can now move their plants to low-wage, poorly regulated, and minimally protected areas with complete freedom under GATT 1994. Environmental, labor, and consumer interests complain that wage freezes, reduced standards, and weaker protection are the inevitable results. From their perspective, only if imports can be limited from areas with weak environmental protection or minimal safeguards can we restore confidence in U.S. environmental standards, con