Trump Wants to Restrict Trade and Immigration. Here’s Why He Can’t do Both.

A day laborer harvests chives Aug. 10 at a field in the Mexicali Valley in Mexico’s Baja California state, alongside the Mexico-U.S. border. (Guillermo Arias/AFP/Getty Images)

Recently, trade negotiators from the United States, Canada and Mexico concluded the first round of talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. President Trump has made clear that he wants a deal that cuts the U.S. trade deficit — and brings manufacturing jobs back to the United States. Trump also threatened to withdraw from the South Korea-U.S. free-trade agreement (KORUS), citing unfair trade practices and a desire to bring home U.S. jobs.

At the same time, Trump is supporting the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act (Raise Act), which would cut legal immigration by 50 percent. And he announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which could mean the deportation of about 690,000 “dreamers” — immigrants who came into the country illegally as children.

These two developments are part of Trump’s agenda to bring back jobs for American workers. But as I show in my new book, “Trading Barriers: Immigration and the Remaking of Globalization,” it will be difficult for Trump to do both.

Immigration and free trade are connected — but they point in opposite directions

Immigration policy often seems a long way off from trade policy, but the two are intimately connected through their impact on U.S. businesses. When trade is restricted, which is what Trump is proposing to do by renegotiating NAFTA and ending KORUS, businesses that rely on a lot of labor will produce more of their goods — and employ more people — here in the United States.

So far, so good for Trump’s promise to bring back manufacturing jobs.

Here’s the big catch: Native labor in the United States is expensive

Increasing the number of jobs for U.S. workers will lead (eventually) to higher wages across the U.S. economy. Businesses may then find that the protection they get from these trade barriers is wiped away by the increase in wages they have to pay — they can’t produce goods at a low-enough price to be competitive.

By Margaret E. Peters for THE WASHINGTON POST
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