Whenever there is discussion about the balance of payments or any other trade difficulties, the focus always seems to end up on the auto industry's doorstep.
All too often, the people involved know nothing about this global industry and certainly have no idea what to do about trade imbalances. They yield to politicians who have a knack for messing things up regardless of which party they belong to.
No one in Washington appears to be taking into account the multitude of parts from all over the world that flow into just about every vehicle being made today.
It is becoming more difficult, perhaps impossible, to tell the country of origin for any vehicle. That makes this whole balance of payments issue even more confusing.
The U.S. wants fair trade, although the U.S. has never been a significant exporter of vehicles. There is no doubt that over the years, tariff barriers and, more importantly, nontariff barriers have led to significant inequities in the export and import of automobiles.
As more vehicles use parts from all over the world, it has become tougher to determine what is what. Before it gets any uglier—and it looks like it will soon—there still is one ingredient that has not been factored into trade.
Instead of punishing companies that have invested billions in this country over the years, perhaps the U.S. should offer credits to auto makers that export from the U.S. This would balance the fact that they not only are importing cars into America but sending American-built cars for consumption all over the world.
It will be complicated. But it could be an answer to a very difficult situation that no one likes.
And it certainly is worth discussing.
Crain is chairman of Crain Communications Inc., the parent company of Rubber & Plastics News.