WASHINGTON – The Bush administration, defending its free trade record against Democratic attacks, is arguing that an American retreat from the global economy would mean less prosperity at home and around the world.
"The critical point to understand is that a retreat from the world would cost American jobs by denying new markets for U.S. products," Commerce Secretary Donald Evans (search) said.
He said closing America's markets would make it harder for developing countries to bolster their own living standards through export sales.
"By threatening to rescind American leadership in support of a global free market, the president's critics would bar millions of people in poverty from the ladder of opportunity," Evans said in a speech he plans to deliver Tuesday night to the World Affairs Council (search) of Washington.
The speech, an advance copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, contained some of the administration's toughest rhetoric yet in defense of President Bush's free trade policies.
"Economic isolationists are waving a surrender flag rather than the American flag," Evans said.
"America is not a fortress, it's a bridge, and the traffic on that bridge goes two ways — exchanging jobs, trade, profits and prosperity," said Evans, Bush's longtime friend and chairman of his 2000 presidential bid.
Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, pointing to a loss of more than 3 million manufacturing jobs in the United States since mid-2000, has attacked Bush's policies of pursuing free trade agreements as a failure that has subjected American workers to unfair competition from low-wage countries.
Kerry has promised to review the country's trade deals to make sure they have adequate protections for U.S. workers. He also has gone after what he calls "Benedict Arnold" American corporations that take advantage of U.S. tax breaks while setting up factories overseas.
Evans took issue with Kerry's attack.
"Those who exercise the freedom to sell American products and services from anywhere in the world aren't 'Benedict Arnold' traitors," Evans said. "They are Benjamin Franklin (search) free traders and innovators who recognize that success comes from making the pie bigger, not slicing it even thinner."
Evans said those who argue for protectionist trade barriers have failed to learn the lessons of the Great Depression of the 1930s when moves to protect U.S. jobs by raising trade barriers brought on retaliatory trade barriers by other nations that prolonged and deepened a global economic slump.
"What we learned is that throwing protectionist punches only results in knocking yourself out," Evans said.
The administration recently became embroiled in controversy when its choice to oversee manufacturing issues had to withdraw from consideration after he was attacked by Democrats for laying off workers at his U.S. factories while building a new plant in China.
Anthony Raimondo (search), chief executive of Behlen Manufacturing Co. of Columbus, Neb., said he withdrew from consideration as an assistant Commerce secretary for manufacturing because he did not believe he could win Senate confirmation.