Hewitt lambastes 'protectionist rhetoric' of Democrat candidates

Patricia Hewitt delivered a blistering attack last night on the two Democratic candidates for the US presidential nomination, accusing them of vying with one another in their "protectionist rhetoric".

In a speech laced with digs at America over its attitude towards free trade, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry took John Kerry and John Edwards to task for pandering to the protectionist lobby.

"My message is don't play politics with people's jobs and people's prosperity. We know - the United States knows - that protectionism is the road to recession," she told a dinner at the Mansion House.

Although Ms Hewitt singled out the two Democratic hopefuls for the White House for criticism, she also took the Republicans to task for imposing two years of unlawful steel tariffs, despite its supposed commitment to free trade.

Now the battleground had become "offshoring' - the movement of jobs to countries where labour costs were cheaper. Britain, she said, had rejected protectionism as the answer at every level - from government through to employers and unions. "But it's not the same in the United States. There, every night, television newsreaders vilify business leaders who are investing abroad. The presidential economic adviser who dares to speak the truth on globalisation is threatened with redundancy by Republican members of Congress."

The news stations are taking their cue from the politicians. Senator Kerry has attacked what he calls the "Benedict Arnold companies taking jobs and shipping them overseas" - a reference to the US patriot who turned traitor by swapping sides to the British during the American war of independence.

Senator Edwards has launched a series of vitriolic attacks on international trade agreements for threatening US jobs - in particular the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.

Mr Edwards, the son of a textile manager from the Carolinas, has spoken on the stump of knowing what "bad trade agreements" can do to people "when the mill shuts down".

In the race for the White House, America's "jobless recovery" is shaping up as the biggest single domestic economic issue and this has fuelled calls for greater protectionism to defend American workers.

Ms Hewitt urged the US not to go down this "tempting road". She said countries had to protect people without resorting to protectionism and called for renewed efforts to get the Doha round of talks back on track to create a system of world trade that is free and fair.

Her comments come against a backdrop of growing trade tension between the US and the European Union with Brussels threatening tariffs against $4bn (£2.2bn) worth of American exports in retaliation over laws allowing the Bush administration to impose anti-dumping duties on imported goods and then use the proceeds to subsidise American producers.

Digby Jones, the director general of the CBI, said last night: "Some US politicians seem to be in a race to be more protectionist than the next.

"I don't like to hear talk of 'Benedict Arnold CEO's' which is completely unfair. Nor do I like to hear people replacing the phrase 'free trade' with 'fair trade' and then going on to propose measures that are really about creating unfairness. If it wants a job-rich recovery, America too must resist the siren voices of protectionism."

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