Thursday, December 18, 2008

Obama's Bad Move on Trade

Reuters is reporting that President-elect Obama has settled on former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk to be US Trade Representative. This does not bode well. Obama's first choice, California Representive Xavier Becerra reportedly turned down the job because Obama wasn't planning on making trade a priority of his administration:
"My concern is how much weight this position would have had, and I reached the conclusion that it would not be a top priority or even a second or third priority," Becerra told La Opinion, a Los Angeles Spanish-language newspaper, in an interview earlier this week.
With the Doha round of WTO talks stalled, hopefully to resume in 2009, it is imperative that trade be made a priority so the impasses over intellecutal property and agricultural subsidies can be broken. Nominating someone to USTR with zero trade experience and with lowered priority is not a good sign. Furthermore, Reuters reports that Obama's first trade priority will be "to make good on Obama's promise to add stronger labor and environmental provisions to the North American Free Trade Agreement, a pact often blamed by labor groups for moving U.S. jobs to Mexico."

All of this bodes very badly. Obama's anti-trade rhetoric during the campaign bordered on protectionist, and was often down-right scary. Re-opening NAFTA would be a disastrous move, making other states less likely to sign agreements with the US for fear that they would be re-opened in the future, undoing all the hard negotiating on the original agreement. Many people claimed that Obama's talk on trade was just that: talk. The hope was Obama was spouting protectionist rhetoric to win the election and that once president he would adopt a saner approach to free trade. Such hopes were bolstered by top economic adviser Austin Goolsbee's comment in Canada that Obama's anti-NAFTA positions "should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans."

But the closer it gets to inauguration day, the more it looks like Obama was serious in his rhetoric.


Patrick S. O'Donnell said...

I think Rick Hills over at PrawfsBlawg: has a bit more nuanced if not accurate picture. And of course my comments to his post more or less express my views on the subject, although I might have added work by Frank J. Garcia (Boston College of Law) on "trade and fairness," articles by Anwar Shaikh (Economist, New School for Social Research) on "international trade," and the paper, "Just Linkage: International Trade and Labor Standards," by Christian Barry and Sanjay G. Reddy.

Devaraj said...

The trade is the main income for a country, if that is not correct, then some thing is wrong. Then the security must be right else, no worth to be the leader. I hope you too would agree with this point.

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