It's increasingly likely that a new wave of global trade pacts will eliminate an onerous 25 percent U.S. tariff on imported pickups.
It's certainly time to do so. The so-called chicken tax has always been an inappropriate and venal tariff with a silly name. But it has stifled competition for a half century.
If it is eliminated, it would lead to greater competition among small pickups in the U.S. And it would open up a staid market segment to more innovation. It certainly wouldn't hurt U.S. pickup buyers, who can't find a new compact pickup on the market and have no midsize options beyond Toyota, Nissan and General Motors.
Dismantling the tariff is still some steps away. But U.S. negotiators are nearing big-ticket trade deals with Pacific Rim nations and the European Union -- and Congress has granted President Obama fast-track authority to send deals to Congress for a yes or no vote, without amendments.
The Pacific Rim deal seeks to create a 12-nation free-trade bloc. The EU deal would lower trade barriers and seek to align regulations between the U.S. and EU.
The point of both accords is for participating countries to sweep away outmoded and retaliatory trade barriers. The chicken tax is a perfect example of an arbitrary barrier, a retaliation against a European tariff on U.S. chickens.
It's exactly the kind of thing other countries can cite to justify their own trade obstacles against U.S. goods.
But even if the chicken tax is on the chopping block in future trade between the U.S. and nearly 40 other countries, don't expect an immediate flood of imported pickups.
The chicken tax would be phased out slowly, over years and perhaps decades. In addition, few countries in the treaty zones assemble small pickups. Thailand is a pickup production hub, but not yet in the Pacific trade group.
GM, Toyota and Nissan can defend their shares of the midsize pickup market for quite some time. The prospect of more competition may force them to quicken the pace of innovation and otherwise elevate their games.
Over time, companies that can compete with all comers are the most robust.
The chicken tax and other laws that artificially prop up inefficiency should go. The auto industry has enough challenges without laws that distort sound business decisions.