"The Trade Enforcement Fig Leaf"

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on February 2, 2010


Daniel Ikenson puts forth a very good argument concerning the Obama Administration’s–and Congressional Democrats’–favorite excuse for slowing down action on the trade liberalization front:

One of the more persistent myths about trade is that we don’t adequately enforce our trade agreements, which has given our trade partners license to cheat. And that chronic cheating—dumping, subsidization, currency manipulation, opaque market barriers, and other underhanded practices—the argument goes, explains our trade deficit and anemic job growth.

But lack of enforcement is a myth that was concocted by congressional Democrats (Sander Levin chief among them) as a fig leaf behind which they could abide Big Labor’s wish to terminate the trade agenda. As the Democrats prepared to assume control of Congress in January 2007, better enforcement—along with demands for actionable labor and environmental standards—was used to cast their opposition to trade as conditional, even vaguely appealing to moderate sensibilities. But as is evident in Congress’s enduring refusal to consider the three completed bilateral agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea (which all exceed Democratic demands with respect to labor and the environment), Democratic opposition to trade is not conditional, but systemic.

As Ikenson goes on to point out, we are already doing a whole lot in order to ensure that trade is fair, and that unfair trade practices get called out and remedied. The notion that we are somehow under economic assault from other nations engaged in unfair trade practices is a pernicious fiction, one whose propagation will only serve to undermine our hopes for a near-term, vibrant economic recovery.

If the Obama Administration is serious about improving our economy, it will drop the trade enforcement fig leaf, and work vigorously to liberalize trade. Unfortunately, the President and his Congressional allies are more interested in demagoguing trade than in expanding it.

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