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Americans have a love-hate relationship with foreign trade. In the marketplace, we’re enthusiasts. During 2012, we scarfed up $2.3 trillion of imports: cars, computers, clothes, smartphones, shoes, toys, oil and much more. We are also eager exporters, though not as successful, peddling $1.6 trillion last year of jets, tractors, pharmaceuticals and corn, among other things. But in the political arena, we’re skeptics. By one typical poll, 63 percent of respondents declared trade “bad” because it “results in the loss of jobs and lower wages.” Only 30 percent cheered that it reduces prices and expands choices for consumers.

The conflicts permeate public debate. We’re obsessed with “competitiveness” and denounce “unfair” trade practices. Led by China and India, “emerging market” countries seem especially threatening. Meanwhile, the White House has proposed new trade pacts with Asia and Europe. Is trade good or bad? Can we separate rhetoric from reality?

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