Courtesy Reuters

Congressional trade debates since 2000 have revolved around a series of individual free trade agreements (FTAs), and the presidential campaign is shaping up the same way. The agreements are worth arguing over, but a debate centered on FTAs has a drawback. These agreements cover less actual trade than most people realize, and they tend to steer argument away from a fundamental question: is our basic trade regime worth keeping?

In fact, most imports arrive not under FTAs but through the permanent tariff system, which receives far less attention in Congress. Rather than raising money and protecting jobs, permanent tariffs tend to

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