A pair of experts one from the United States and one from Australia on Tuesday urged the U.S. to resist the temptation of protectionism as a way to help the troubled U.S. economy.
John Winston Howard, prime minister of Australia from 1996 to 2007, and U.S. Commerce Under Secretary for International Trade Christopher A. Padilla stressed that economic openness is the better path.
"The worst possible thing that America could do or Australia could do or Europe could do at the present time is to turn back in on ourselves and become more protectionist," Howard told a crowd of about 850 people at Zions Bank's seventh annual International Trade and Business Conference.
"The world cries aloud in 2008 for a reaffirmation of the view that protection is something of the past, because if the world goes back into protection, we will aggravate some of the difficulties that are now being faced," Howard said. "That will present very significant challenges and very significant difficulties for all of us."
Padilla, who spoke earlier in the day, said protectionism provides a false sense of security and stems from "a defeatist belief that America cannot compete." The U.S. instead needs to pass more free trade agreements it has 14 now forge investment treaties and participate in the World Trade Organization, he said.
"Great nations know what they believe," he said, "and we believe that openness makes America different, dynamic and strong."
Howard's suggestion of maintaining an open U.S. economy was among his four "rules of the road" for Western, developed countries, and he said it could help the U.S. during economically troubled times.
"Whenever the American economy gets into trouble, you can always be certain that it's sufficiently flexible. and relatively speaking, unregulated, so that it can recover from the difficulty and perform its way out of economic challenge and economic adversity very, very rapidly," he said.
The other rules include not resorting to overregulation during adversity, balancing budgets or at least narrowing deficits, and maintaining faith in the capacity of technology and science to solve most problems.
Howard said he is a "passionate believer" in globalization. "I hope that not only here in the United States, but in my own country and in other nations around the world, that the doubters and the naysayers who always arise and always become prominent in a time of some economic adversity do not carry the day in relation to globalization," he said.
Padilla said many pundits believe China will overtake the U.S. economy, much as they once had predicted for Japan and Europe. "But, ladies and gentlemen, one way to reliably lose money is to bet against America's success, and I do not believe that China's economy will inevitably overtake our own," he said.
The reason, he said, is America's economic openness, which "gives us a leg up in the global economy. We are stronger as a nation, because we welcome the world's products, ideas, investment and people."
Howard, meanwhile, said many people take the wrong view of China and its 1.3 billion inhabitants. "There are too many people, including in the United States, who see China's emergence as a threat and not as an opportunity," he said. "It is an enormous opportunity. It is a huge market."
A self-proclaimed optimist, Howard said he hopes someday that China will be as free as the U.S. and Australia. While he was prime minister, Howard began a process that could result in a free-trade agreement between Australia and China."I hold the view that there is an eventual tension between economic openness and political restriction, that ultimately the two just don't mix. And eventually economic liberalism will cry out loud for a matching political openness, particularly in a world of instant communications," he said. "You can't go on aggressively monitoring the Internet forever."