From inexpensive foreign goods on box-store shelves to the Canadian shoppers who fill up the parking lots outside, international trade plays a large role in the north country's economy and in balancing the books for local governments.
And the two candidates for Congress have slightly differing views on how best to take advantage of those opportunities. U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, charts a more cautious path for U.S. trade agreements than his opponent, Republican Matthew A. Doheny, who is a more ardent free-trade advocate.
Said Mr. Doheny: “Free trade lifts all boats.”
Asked if he agreed with Mr. Doheny's sentiment, Mr. Owens said: “I think probably negotiated ones do. I think you always have to make reference to free and fair trade. That's one of the issues you have with China. You always have to be vigilant to make sure you're getting fair trade for your constituents.”
Free trade refers to a lack of restrictions, such as taxes, on the international sale of goods or services. Countries sometimes place restrictions — limiting imports from foreign countries, for example, or taxing them — on international goods to protect industries at home.
The two candidates agree when it comes to Canada, but disagree on what ought to be done about trade with China. Mr. Owens is more willing to impose those restrictions to protect American industries, while Mr. Doheny says that such tactics tend to backfire.
The free-trade decisions most likely to face the person who wins Nov. 6 surround the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP, as it's often called, is a trade deal that is being negotiated among Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and other Pacific countries, plus the United States. Canada has been in negotiations to join the agreement, which Mr. Owens and Mr. Doheny agreed could be a windfall for north country dairy farmers.
Canada has a restrictive dairy market that doesn't allow farmers to take advantage of the market just to the north. Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa aren't far from the north country, and Canada might open those markets to the United States as part of the TPP.
“It would be tremendous if we had the ability to compete fairly in Canada,” Mr. Doheny said.
Mr. Owens likewise supports the efforts of the TPP, but said that New Zealand's entry into the market was cause for concern that the United States must remain “vigilant” about. New Zealand is a major dairy producer.
On China, though, the candidates strike a starkly different tone. Mr. Owens said that the United States needs to get tough on the rising power in the East with taxes on its goods, while Mr. Doheny said that doing so could spark a trade war that would hurt consumers.
“One of the issues you always have in a trade relationship is making sure the other side is not manipulating the cost of their product,” Mr. Owens said.“That's what China is doing, both by manipulating their currency and supporting the production of products in their own countries.”
In Mr. Owens's view, China is keeping the value of its currency artificially low so that its goods are more attractive to other countries. That puts American manufacturers at a disadvantage. Mr. Owens said that to make up for the difference, the United States should consider applying tariffs, or taxes, on Chinese imports.
But Mr. Doheny said that wasn't a good idea.
“The problem is, you start raising barriers and tariffs, it only ends up hitting our own consumers here at home,“ Mr. Doheny said.“When you have challenging economic times, you have to make sure you don't spark a trade war and hurt our own consumers by higher prices across the board for different goods and services.”
Mr. Owens acknowledged that higher prices could be a result, but said it would help create American jobs.
“I think that if you talk to many people in the north country, if there were products that cost a little bit more that were made in America, they would support that,” Mr. Owens said.“Not everybody would, but a significant number of people would.”
Besides policy, international trade on a more local level has played out in the congressional race, too. On Thursday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched an advertisement accusing Mr. Doheny of working for a firm that “hired cheap foreign labor” and invested in “offshore” companies.
The claims were based on Mr. Doheny's work for Fintech Advisory. The “cheap foreign labor” claim is based on the notion that when one invests in a foreign company, one is investing in a company that will hire labor in its own country. It's not foreign to that company, but foreign to the United States.
The company did indeed focus on international investments, according to news accounts. But Mr. Doheny focused on North American investments, he said. He did extensive international traveling, often to London, in his previous job at Deutsche Bank Securities. In a follow-up interview, Jude R. Seymour, Mr. Doheny's spokesman, said that Mr. Doheny had never worked on accounts related to Chinese companies.
His campaign denounced the DCCC ad.
“If it looks like an old, tired, misleading attack and sounds like an old, tired, misleading attack, then it is just an old, tired, misleading attack,” Mr. Seymour said in an email.