Candidates talk trade. Is there any difference?

Two juxtaposed events: Conclusion of the Democratic National Convention and a suggestion from manufacturing giant Boeing that it may be about to end production of the 747 after 46 years.

Hillary Clinton says, on her website, she’ll “say no to trade deals, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that do not meet her high standard of raising wages, creating good-paying jobs, and enhancing our national security.”

Donald Trump says “for free trade to bring prosperity to America, it must also be fair trade. Our goal is not protectionism but accountability.”

If there’s a trade policy gap between the two candidates at all, it’s hard to see through the crack. Yet trade embodies so much relating to a nation’s wealth, prowess and prestige.

International demand for airliners — and the high-paying jobs to design, build and sell them — embodies so many trade issues, such as parts sourcing, national subsidies, and job creation. China wants in on the business. If past is prologue, it will steal any blueprints and subsidize any sales to build mass.

Boeing has made more than 1,500 of its familiar-looking 747s since it delivered the first one to Pan Am (from which I still have a luggage tag) in 1970. The plane became a prestigious symbol of the United States’ manufacturing and exporting power.

Now conditions of airline economics, competition, trade and supply chain have all changed. Demand for the 747 has declined to where, as Reuters reports, the company is only making one per month. Boeing is losing money at the moment — also partly because its Air Force KC-46 tanker program can’t seem to get out of its own way.

Countless federal policies and regulations impinge on companies like Boeing. Its lawyers in a given year no doubt deal with the Labor Department, IRS, EPA, EEOC, Federal Trade Commission, and Health and Human Services. And, naturally, the Transportation Department.

It has a large professional staff. It has a large unionized workforce. It imports billions of dollars worth of parts and sub-assemblies. It exports worldwide. In fact it’s having a dispute over a proposed sale of 80 planes to Iran Air. It operates and buys from big factories all over that pound metal, mold plastic, extrude wire and solder billions of components onto circuit boards.

Think of this too: Every hour an airliner flies, it employs a paid crew of three, four, in some cases 10 people. It carries aloft thousands of dollars worth of soft drinks and food, supplied by manufacturers who deliver this material using trucks and truck drivers. It burns kerosene from refineries and the labor and supply chains they entail.

Both candidates, in their own ways, have promised to soak the rich. Interestingly, Boeing’s backlog lists 110 orders from “unidentified customer(s).” That’s the global rich, who don’t want their names mentioned. It includes 16 orders for the fancy 787.

So a lot’s at stake economically in presidential elections, and a lot is at stake for a vast swath of federal policy. Let’s hope the candidates really understand those stakes.

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