In this lamentable presidential campaign, there is scant attention to international issues. Yet for the U.S. – the world’s largest trading nation and the world’s only remaining superpower – momentous issues are in play.
In Europe, the movement toward political and monetary unification, symbolized by the Maastricht Treaty, is unraveling. Slow growth and continued high unemployment (much higher than the U.S.) continue to plague most EC economies. And Europe’s diplomats have been unable to resolve the civil war in Yugoslavia, Europe’s first post-Cold War crisis.
Canada, our largest trading partner, is in the midst of a constitutional crisis. The decisions Canadians are about to make concerning their future will have a profound impact on the U.S. While these are delicate issues for candidates to discuss, there is almost no attention to them by the media.
Looking south, the U.S. and Canada have just concluded the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico. NAFTA might have turned into an instructive debate on U.S. trade policy, the impact of exports on domestic job creation and the role to North America in emerging trading blocs. Instead, the debate was nipped in the bud when Governor Clinton said objections of congressional Democrats and organized labor, who want to renegotiate the treaty, should instead be expressed in the instrument of ratification. Clinton’s move was good politics, but it pre-empted a badly needed national debate on trade policy.
Further south is an economic boom, covering most of Latin America. The boom is fueled by privatization, deregulation, massive new foreign investment and democratization. Yet Latin America is off the presidential radar screen.
Last month, the 20-nation pacific economic Cooperation Council met in San Francisco. PECC includes the U.S., Canada, and Mexico in the eastern Pacific along with Japan and every other major western Pacific Rim nation. Important issues of Pacific Basin economic, technology and social policy that will affect the wealth and well-being of Americans well into the 21st century were on the table. But neither candidate nor the media have addressed these issues or this region during the campaign. New free trade groups are emerging around the globe; each, concerned about its relationship to the U.S., should be a matter of national debate here, but is not.
China’s 1.2 billion strong consumer market is booming. The country is enjoying double digit economic growth. Foreign investment has increased by 130% during the past year, spurred by new leadership of the Central Committee of the Communist party – younger men and women publicly committed to economic reform, entrepreneurism and increased decentralization.
Most important for U.S. job creation, the Chinese middle class is growing rapidly. The Hongkong-based Concord group (which owns and operates department stores on the mainland) estimates there are 80 million Chinese with incomes exceeding $7,500 year – one-third more than average incomes in Eastern Europe. Of these, 55 million are self employed entrepreneurs; 15 million work for foreign joint ventures; 10 million are senior government officials. Despite these dramatic developments – including this week’s meeting of the 14th party Congress in Beijing – China, with one-fourth the world’s population, has received almost no attention by candidates or the media.
We live in a global economy and an increasingly interdependent global community. Out wealth and well-being are very much connected to issues and conditions beyond our borders. We ignore these at our peril.