TUBAC, AZ — Jim Kolbe, a national leader supporting global trade, spoke Oct. 30 on that topic during an educational session at the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas 45th annual convention.
From 1985 until 2003, Kolbe was a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Arizona’s 5th congressional district. He introduced unsuccessful legislation for a U.S.-Mexican Free Trade Agreement two years before the North American Free Trade Agreement, which also involved Canada, passed by an easy margin in 1993.
Since his first term, Kolbe has served in many related capacities, always favoring free trade. He is currently the Senior Transatlantic Fellow for the German Marshall Fund and is the co-chairman of the Arizona Transportation & Trade Corridor Alliance.
Kolbe opened his remarks by noting that in an ideal world, all countries would have one standard trade agreement. But, he said, the World Trade Organization involves 160 countries and having all members agree on anything is “almost impossible.”
He added that countries that do have free trade agreements are 16 times more likely to buy and sell with one another. Some of the strength of that statistic is attributable to close geographic proximity, such as what exists with Mexico, the United States and Canada within NAFTA. But he said there are other success stories for non-contiguous trade partners.
Kolbe noted that of the globe’s top 20 or 25 trading counties, Americans have the most negative attitude toward free trade. He said that only 20 percent of Americans believe that global trade creates jobs, while 60 percent believe global trade will cost American jobs and 20 percent are unsure.
“Produce growers know it creates jobs,” he added. But because of public perception, “it is an uphill battle” to promote free trade within the United States.
The two presidents Bush and Bill Clinton all “understood the value of free trade,” he said, explaining this partly relates to George W. Bush and Clinton having both served as governors, which is a position that causes political leaders to especially appreciate the value of trade to building an economy.
Kolbe said that President Obama, coming from a role of “community organizer and law professor,” who is “beholden to labor unions … doesn’t see trade in the same light.”
Still, the president was warm toward the passage of the Transpacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. In campaigning, Obama indicated he would ask for Trade Promotion Authority (once called “Fast Track” trade authority.) But Kolbe said that the day after Obama’s inauguration, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated that the Senate would never grant Trade Promotion Authority. The topic was dropped by the Obama administration.
With the Transatlantic treaty, “the United States, which is with largest market in the world, would, with the Europeans, dictate standards for the rest of the world. If we don’t do this, China will take the lead. We would rather take the lead.”
Speaking in Tubac a few days before Election Day, Kolbe stressed the importance of these matters. Interestingly, a CNN report on Nov. 5 indicated that these treaties and supportive work may be revisited, with the shift toward Republican leadership.
In the question-and-answer session following Kolbe’s formal remarks, Kolbe was asked how he saw the future of the world.
Kolbe said he is basically an optimist, but he is concerned about the future in both the economic and political realms. Economically, he said, Europe is facing a decline. Japan is looking at another recession and fast growth in India and Brazil has stalled. Kolbe said the Chinese economy is also slowing. He does believe the United States economy is growing, so he is hopeful that power will continue and can raise the economic strength of our trading partners.
Kolbe is also concerned politically. The aggressive terrorist ISIS activity in Syria and Iraq first brought a war-weary American reaction disfavoring U.S. boots on the ground.
But Kolbe believes that Americans are turning their attitude to recognize that the United States is simply bound to its role as protector of the world. He said it may be inevitable that the American military must again step in to try and make things right.