Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bullying Protectionists: Democrats on Trade

This Wall Street Journal editorial highlights a key international relations election issue that's been out of the media glare with so much talk about Iraq: Will the next president expand America's historic commitment to free trade, global markets, and the internationalization of economic opportunity?

The answer's less clear on the Democratic side:

Democrats claim the world hates America because President Bush has behaved like a global bully. But we don't recall him ever ordering an ally to rewrite an existing agreement on American terms -- or else.

Yet that's exactly what both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are now promising to do to our closest neighbors, Mexico and Canada. At their Ohio debate on Tuesday, first Mrs. Clinton, followed ever so quickly by Mr. Obama, pledged to pull America out of the North American Free Trade Agreement if the two countries don't agree to rewrite it on Yankee terms. How's that for global "unilateralism"?

Democrats sure have come a long way from the 1990s, when Bill Clinton pushed Nafta through a Democratic Congress. And the truth is that both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama have spoken favorably about Nafta in the past. Yet now they are sounding the loudest protectionist notes by a potential President in decades. More dangerous, neither is telling the truth about the role of trade in the U.S. economy. If either one makes it to the White House, he or she will carry the weight of this campaign protectionism while trying to lead the global economy.
Protectionism has been an important theme throughout the campaign. See my earlier post, "Iowa Voters Jittery on Trade Policy."

But the gains from trade remain largely uncontroversial among economists.

But note further WSJ's editorial, which highlights the gains to both Canada and Mexico from the North America Free Trade Agreement.

Especially interesting here is Barack Obama's statements on trade. He campaigned as a free trader in earlier phases of his political career. Now he wants to roll back America's commitment to free international markets: He's like John Kerry on trade policy: He was for trade liberalization before he was against it.