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Globalization and the Midwest

by Joanna Klonsky
October 7, 2008

With four weeks to go before the U.S. presidential election, 200 business leaders, academics and government officials gathered in Chicago this week to launch the Global Midwest Initiative, an effort to examine the “impact on and response of the Midwest to globalization,” according to Marshall Bouton, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

With an annual gross regional product of $2.8 trillion, according to World Business Chicago, the Midwestern economy is larger than most countries in the world. Foreign policy issues like free trade, immigration energy and environmental concerns have all had a profound impact on the region, which houses electoral swing states including Indiana, Missouri and Ohio. Some studies have shown anti-globalization sentiments are rising in the region. A recent Chicago Council on Global Affairs public opinion study (PDF) showed more than 50 percent of Midwesterners think globalization is “mostly bad” for the United States. About 40 percent of Midwesterners said they oppose agreements to lower trade barriers. More than 80 percent of Midwesterners said they think the government should focus on domestic problems, while only 18 percent said the United States should focus on challenges abroad.

Here are some points of interest from Monday’s session:

TRADE: Former Michigan Governor John Engler, a keynote speaker at the conference, said trade has become a “bogeyman” to the Midwestern public, but said Midwest-based companies understand the region’s dependence on trade. He recommended that the United States ratify the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) “without delay,” and said the U.S.-Panama FTA is “ready to go as well.” He also told the United States should consider pursuing a U.S.-European Union FTA to lower barriers in the aftermath of the failure of the Doha Round global trade talks earlier this year. Engler suggested the creation of an international sectoral agreement related to goods and equipment designed to reduce pollution or otherwise protect the environment.

ENERGY: Former Iowa Governer Thomas Vilsack said the Midwest can position itself to play a leading role as the United States shifts to alternative energy and works to combat climate change. He said the Midwest should be involved in shaping a possible cap-and-trade system of carbon emissions, calling the region “the center of responding to the carbon challenges” the country faces. Vilsack said Midwestern leaders should work to increase CAFE standards and should continue efforts to retrofit buildings to be more energy efficient. He also noted the region’s numerous prestigious research universities, which he called upon to coordinate their research and development efforts on renewable energy and related infrastructure issues.

IMMIGRATION: The Midwest has seen a major influx of immigration in recent years, not only from Mexico but also from places like Somalia, the Balkans, and of Hmong people. Rob Paral, a consultant and researcher on immigration, said the economic downturn has hit Mexican immigrants in the United States particularly hard, and said the process by which Mexicans can legally immigrate to the United States has become increasingly difficult. He said local governments should resist the urge to get involved in immigration control. Instead, he said, they should leave that responsibility to the federal government and focus on economic and community development.

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