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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > US Trade Deficit: Flood of Imports

Back in the Sixties I was traveling thru an Asian country and was astonished to observe even middle class families regularly buying imported ice cream, imported crackers & imported water from Europe.

Today, the modest to quite affluent classes in the United States are buying imported Swedish ice cream, French Perrier, British crackers and Swiss breakfast cereal.
Today the newspapers report the growth of the huge United States trade deficit with other nations, currently running at over $13 billion a month. In 1972 President Nixon thought a $2 billion a year deficit was intolerable.

Even with the substantial decline of the value of the United States dollar during the past year, the flood of imports continues. A few weeks ago, the government reported that our nation imported more food products than it exported earlier this year. America — the grainery of the world -­is experiencing a food trade deficit!

There have been immense amounts of commentaries and hearings regarding this trade deficit which mull over aggregate trade figures, broken down into categories, and the role played by currency values and wage levels. But there is very little specific inquiry as to why domestic sellers are losing out to foreign sellers in the battle for the American consumers’ dollar. If there were such inquiries, I suspect that one big answer would be a failure of consumer sensitivity by more and more U.S. companies.

ITEM: Why are Japanese auto imports straining at the upper limits of their quota and selling ever larger cars to make up for their ceiling? The biggest reasons are customer perceived quality, fuel efficiency and a stubborn refusal of the domestic leader — General Motors — to compete over price with the Japanese. General Motors has decided to sell fewer cars at higher prices and continues to raise its prices while the price of imported Japanese cars rises due to the declining value of the dollar.

ITEM: What about those food and drink products from abroad? These companies are selling by publicizing what is not in their products. Swedish ice cream is free of additives. Perrier Is claimed to be free of pollutants. American industry which resists pollution control is hurting other U.S. food and drink companies who in turn are not keeping up with public concerns.

ITEM: Surveys concluded that the higher Americans are on the Income ladder, the more they believe that foreign made products are better than U.S. made ones. These consumers, of course, spend more and their dollars are going overseas. Is there any reason for poorer quality U.S. products, if this is true, other than bad management practices?

ITEM: Top management in the U.S. is losing much time and energy buying and selling their companies or warding off corporate raiders. Foreign sellers quip that while they are selling goods to Americans, the U.S. competitors are either in takeover battles or marketing companies.

ITEM: Many of our brightest engineers and scientists are in the armaments industries, while their counterparts in East Asia, Germany and Italy are refining and improving traditional consumer technologies.

The trade deficit would be much worse if our country was not conserving energy and if the price of imported oil was not less than half of what it was in 1984. But hark! General Motors has just threatened to lay off 40,000 workers if the Department of Transportation does not reduce again the fuel efficiency standards for its cars in 1987 and 1988 from a modest standard of 27.5 miles per gallon set in 1975 for implementation a decade later.

Once again the Reagan regime will knuckle under to corporate pressure and abandon its conservation goals.

One thinks corporate management should be an election year discussion issue.