Discussions over free trade usually focus on imports – and these discussions often devolve into arguments over the impact of higher imports on U.S. manufacturers. Unfortunately, this obsession often causes us to miss out on the positives, such as those outlined in an article (subscription required) in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. According to the article, regions that have been hit hard by the downturn in auto sales have benefited from a sizable increase in international demand for industrial machinery. This boom in exports has come at a good time, as consumer spending is slumping and the credit crisis continues to claim more victims. Of course the dollar's rebound and not-so-rosy conditions in Japan and Europe have some concerned about the staying power of export growth, but order backlogs for machinery are sizable and should keep U.S. manufacturers busy for a while longer.