Since his haughtiness is matched only by his ineptitude on the subject, reading uber-pundit George Will on trade policy is always a treat. Just over a year ago, he confidently told viewers of Fox News Sunday that the solution to the Central American child migrants crisis was easy (if long term): just sign a free trade agreement with the region. Apparently he forgot that that’s precisely what Washington did in 2007.
This morning, Will was at it again, blasting Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump for charging that import-dominated automotive trade flows show that America “is being killed on trade” by Japan.
“Well,” huffed Will, ” Leaving aside Japan’s strange unwillingness to purchase unwanted beef, most Japanese vehicles that pour into the United States do so from plants in the United States. The vehicles are assembled by Americans using mostly American parts.” To which any informed student of the situation can only reply, “Well.”
Have Japanese auto-makers shifted production state-side big-time? Unquestionably – though Will might have mentioned that the process began when former President Ronald Reagan imposed import quotas on automobiles in the early 1980s. But let’s “leave aside” that inconvenient truth. The latest U.S. trade data show that America this year so far is running a $27.77 billion deficit with Japan in the automotive sector, and just under $21 billion of that total is autos and light trucks. And so far it’s running slightly (1.40 percent) ahead of last year’s pace.
Moreover, despite localization that the Japanese producers have undeniably engaged in, the full year 2014 bilateral deficit was 3.59 percent higher than that a decade earlier. And the vehicles’ share of this gap during that period is up from 71.96 percent to 73.96 percent.
Equally off-base is Will’s contention that a majority of the vehicles assembled in the United States by the Japanese producers are made of “mostly American parts.” The Transportation Department’s data for 2015 show that of the 91 Japanese car and light truck models sold in the United States, only 20 boast North American content levels greater than 50 percent, and eight are right at that mark. Sixty-three of the models are less than half North American-made – and “North American” also of course includes Canadian and Mexican parts.
Will finished off this comedy of errors by insinuating that Trump is a serial liar. No one but a mind-reader can know if Will deliberately presented a false picture of U.S.-Japan automotive commerce. But his latest missive certainly extends his record as a serial incompetent on trade.