Ohio Campaigns Test Persuasiveness Of Trade Talk.

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Voting is underway in this year’s midterm elections, Campaigns for Governor and U-S Senate are focused on jobs. But, broadcast ads, new media, and direct mail appeals often outline candidate positions on international trade. WOSU’s Tom Borgerding reports on the politics of trade in a state dotted with farms and factories.

In appeals to Ohio voters, job losses and job gains are bandied about in broadcast and internet commercials

Ohio State University economist Carl Zulauf sees a common thread running through many of the political ads, especially in the races for Governor and U-S Senate.

“They are indeed focusing on trade, and people’s position on trade, which tells me that they think this is an issue which therefore makes me want to say then it must be an issue. So I would agree that it is an issue.”

Zulauf says Ohio’s economy has been re-designed in the past several decades, in part, by trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement in the mid 1990s and more recently through trade with China. Zulauf says such agreements are generally helpful to a big economy but the transition for Ohio has been painful.

“And so a lot of the debate that we’re seeing and a lot of the commercials are very personal on very specific levels because its not clear that trade does always benefit an individual, does always benefit a local community, but it does always benefit the general economy.” Says Zulauf.

Trade agreements notwithstanding, the most recent economic analysis by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services indicates economic reversal in the fall of 2008 changed Ohio’s economic equation. The deep slowdown temporarily torpedoed consumer demand for big ticket items like cars and appliances. As a result, Ohio manufacturers lost tens of thousands of jobs. The report says the economic downturn fundamentally re-sized Ohio’s economy.

Ohio’s employment peaked in May of 2000. Since then the state has suffered a net loss of 618-thousand jobs most of the losses occurred among Ohio manufacturers ..418,000 jobs lost. Trade rules and trade agreements are layered into this jobs picture. As a result, Governor Strickland and his Republican opponent John Kasich are talking trade and trying to make political points, and attract votes by outlining opponent’s positions.

“There is some protectionism popping up.”

Allen Brugler is president of Brugler Marketing and Management of Omaha, Nebraska. His firm focuses on worldwide commodity markets and during a recent visit to Ohio he took note of the trade debate on the Ohio campaign trail. He says sentiment for tariffs and trade barriers among some who lost jobs during tough economic times generally hurts production agriculture.

“We have a little different alignment of interest, I guess, than someone whose wage rate is higher than a guy in China or Vietnam would do the same job. ”

Brugler says the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA has been a tremendous benefit to farmers in Ohio and other Midwest states because two of the biggest buyers of meat and commodities now are Canada and Mexico. In fact, those two countries are among Ohio’s biggest export markets. But, economist Zulauf says candidates for statewide office have to parse their trade message. While agriculture plays a major role in Ohio’s economy, many households also depend on off-farm income”

“In fact a great, great majority of farmers in this state actually have either their spouse or themselves have a job off the farm.” Zulauf says. “And so what happens, in fact a lot of that has been in the manufacturing sector. So what happens in the manufacturing sector influences farm households beyond simply the farm because its also another source of employment, another source of income, another source of benefits.”

Zulauf says voters will soon sort out the debate over free trade versus protectionism. Tomorrow, A Circleville farmer and a Columbus west side grandfather whose family spent decades working at the defunct Delphi auto parts plant speak to trade issues in election 2010.

Tom Borgerding WOSU News