While today is undeniably International Talk Like a Pirate Day, it also appears to be Let's Release Something About Trade Day inside the beltway. Scanning these documents, I'm pretty depressed about the future of trade policy and trade politics.
The Council on Foreign Relations released a Task Force Report on Trade and Investment Policy. The Task force was populated from a bipartisan list of eminences who agreed upon the following list of bullet points:
1) A trade-negotiations agenda that opens markets for the most competitive U.S.-produced goods and services
2) A National Investment Initiative that would coordinate investment policies to create more high-wage, high-productivity jobs in the United States
3) A robust and strategic trade enforcement effort that ensures U.S. companies and workers are not harmed by trade agreement violations
4) A greater push to promote U.S. exports through more competitive export financing and a more active U.S. government role in supporting American overseas sales
5) An expanded use of trade to foster development in the world’s poorest countries
6) A comprehensive worker adjustment and retraining policy
7) A new deal with Congress to give the president a mandate to negotiate trade-opening agreements with an assurance of timely congressional action
OK, let's see... (1) is just a restatement of principles, (3) is an old saw that only gets repeated during a presidential election season, (4) sounds awfully similar to the status quo policy, (5) is not a politically viable option, (6) is a political non-starter, and (7) will only happen if a single party controls the executive and legislative branches. So, to sum up, all of the the good, innovative policy proposals are politically impossible right now.
You can understand why I'm feeling a bit like Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles.
As much as I want to see further trade liberalization, however, I'm getting equally weary of lazy pro-trade rhetoric. Consider, as Exhibit A, this open trade letter to President Obama that Jaggdish Bhagwati pulled together (reprinted in The American Interest). The key paragraph has the following assertions:
The fear of the labour unions that trade with the poor countries produces poor in the rich countries is mistaken. The demand of the business lobbies that want ever more concessions from others is excessive. The contention of some experts that the gains from Doha are minuscule is flawed in neglecting the costs of the failure of Doha and the ensuing damage to the WTO. The retribution by a protectionist public is greatly exaggerated: many jobs today depend on both exports and imports and the polls reflect that.
As the 2012 campaign heats up, let's just re-write that last paragraph in the language of political pollsters:
If you push to ratify Doha as is, the unions will freak, big business will stand on the sidelines, some experts will argue that the gains are miniscule, and the public will likely disapprove of the deal unless they suddenly care enough to follow the issue. Get to it, President Obama!
The worst part of that paragraph, however, is the claim regarding "ensuing damage" to the WTO is Doha fails. Anyone paying attention to Doha has been aware that the trade round has been deader than a doornail since before rthe 2008 financial crisis. It's so dead that the Bush administration's last trade negotiator proposed scrapping it. What's striking is that, three years after Doha became DOA, the damage to the WTO appears to be pretty minimal. The wave of protectionism triggered by 2008 crested a while ago, and trade volumes recovered quickly. Don't get me wrong, I'm not happy that Doha is dead -- but the WTO's survival does not seem contingent on its passage.
Am I missing anything?