Free Trade Free Fall?

Once considered the bastion of American capitalism, free trade
is freefalling out of favor among the public and politicians alike.
Whatever waning leverage the Bush administration is clinging to has
all but dried up in the Democratic-controlled Congress, many
members of which won pushing anti-free trade platforms.

Reporting for Foreign Policy in Focus, Laura Carlsen
cites a national NBCNews/Wall Street Journal poll from
March showing that 46 percent of people surveyed believe free trade
agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
have hurt the country. Only 28 percent of those surveyed believe
that they helped.

Politicians are apparently aware of the public’s skepticism,
according to Tom Barry, policy director for the
International Relations Center, a New
Mexico-based think tank. In a ‘trade backgrounder’ report, Barry
writes that ‘[b]oth political parties are increasingly wary of
trade measures that may increase the massive US trade deficit and
anger voters tired of seeing US jobs lost to overseas
production.’

Despite these negative sentiments, the Bush administration is
still holding fast to free trade logic as it continues to push new
free trade agreements with Peru, Colombia, Panama, and South Korea,
all of which are currently sitting on the block in Congress
awaiting review.

According to Carlsen, the White House appears to be paying heed
to the anti-free trade crowd by shifting their rhetoric, but not
their aims. For example, instead of ‘free trade agreements,’ the
Peru and Colombia proposals have been dubbed ‘trade promotion
agreements.’ But, Carlsen notes, the agreements are still based on
the NAFTA template with the same basic tenets.

It’s a template that many have criticized for securing US
corporate interests by dismantling or lowering trade tariffs at a
great cost to other countries. In fact, in the agreement signed
with South Korea, the US slipped in two unprecedented clauses that
bolster US leverage, according to Korean news source
Hankyoreh. One will ‘fast track’ the
dispute procedure and another, called ‘snap back,’ will allow
the United States to reinstate tariffs on Korean autos should
the Korean government fail to implement certain regulations. The
Associated Press reports that the
agreement brought 6,000 workers onto the streets of Seoul to
protest on April 7.

Echoing the beliefs of people around the globe, Carlsen calls
for a moratorium on all free trade agreements. And politicians may
not be too far behind. Whether Congress can hold off the stubborn
free trade pursuit however, remains to be seen.

Go there >>
Moratorium on Free Trade Agreements

Go there, too >>
U.S. Trade Winds No Longer Prevail

And there >>
Korean Gov’t Accepts Unprecedented US Demands in
Trade Deal

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