Auto Union Chief Presses for Trade Reform

The deficit in automotive trade is expected to hit $109 billion.

Trade reform must be a part of President Barack Obama's economic plan if the U.S. manufacturing base is to recover from the current recession, United Auto Workers president Ron Gettelfinger said on Jan. 22.

"We must take action to fix our broken trading system," Ron Gettelfinger said. "We can no longer afford to have the most open market in the world, while other countries use currency manipulation and non-tariff barriers to keep out U.S.-made products."

Gettelfinger noted that the overall U.S. merchandise trade deficit is projected at $845 billion for 2008. The deficit in automotive trade alone is expected to hit $109 billion and the U.S. has an automotive trade imbalance with every one of its major trading partners, including Britain, which has a small automotive industry.

"We will never stabilize the U.S. auto industry or our economy, if we continue to buy more than we sell from every other industrialized nation," Gettelfinger said. "Let me be clear, the UAW is not opposed to fair trade, but it's time to recognize that so-called 'free trade' is a fiction; every trading relationship is managed in one form or another.

"Our trading partners manage their trade relationships to benefit their industries and their citizens. There's no reason we can't do the same, and still maintain a healthy exchange of goods and services across international borders."

Gettelfinger also said the union is willing to consider concessions like those spelled out in the terms of the federal bridge loans for GM and Chrysler. However, before the UAW agrees to any kind of wage concessions, he wants to be able to examine the books of Japanese companies such as Toyota, Honda and Nissan to how they calculate labor costs.

The union chief said he hoped the new "car czar" that the Obama administration will appoint to oversee the restructuring of GM and Chrysler will also examine the subsidies used by states such as Alabama to entice foreign automakers to build plants in their states.

Health care is another area where U.S. manufacturers are operating at a competitive disadvantage, he added, noting that "every other industrial country provides universal health care insurance for its citizens, delivering quality care at a much lower cost."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009

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