Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Doha Collapse Emboldens Trade Foes

The other day I noted that trade is one of those issues where the ball is either moving one way, or the other. If barriers to trade are not being eliminated, then they are being created. Roll Call (subscription required )reports that others agree:

Trade Lobbyists: Agenda Doesn’t Stop With Doha
July 26, 2006
By Kate Ackley,
Roll Call Staff

Business lobbyists who were supportive of the now-collapsed Doha round of World Trade Organization talks are putting their disappointment aside and placing a positive spin on the outlook for other upcoming trade deals. But opponents of those measures say the Doha breakdown is a sign that the tide is starting to shift in their favor.

Ron Sorini, a former chief U.S. textile negotiator who is now a senior vice president at the firm Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg, said the collapse of WTO talks will put greater emphasis on narrower free-trade agreements.

“U.S. trade policy is going to have to shift now from a multilateral approach to a more bilateral one,” Sorini said...

But Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division, said the WTO collapse was a sign of a greater world-wide “political backlash” against the current free-trade model. That backlash, she said, will only give her side further momentum as it seeks to defeat measures like Vietnam and Peru.

The reality Congress has to face, she said, is that broader constituencies, including small businesses, farmers and the religious community — “groups that weren’t in this fight two years ago — are in it, against more of the same. ... My suspicion [is that] the political appetite is calling for a hiatus, a prudent pause on trade. I’ve never seen so many House races” in which candidates are focusing on trade.

Wallach agreed there would be a greater focus on regional trade agreements because of the WTO collapse, but she said the attention will come from both sides.

“Will it make it easier to have them put into place? No,” she said.

Bill Lane, Washington, D.C., director of governmental affairs for Caterpillar Inc., turned to a boxing analogy to sum up his thoughts of the trade fights. Boxer Floyd Patterson, he said, “was knocked down more than anyone and said it’s not about how many times you get knocked down but how many times you get up.”

The Doha round collapse, Lane said, “is a setback” but “it’s my belief that the Congress and the administration are going to be even more determined than they were before” and that they are more likely to move on the Peru and Vietnam deals before the end of the session...

Wallach makes a valid point: one of the reasons that trade opponents have had success is that they organize and activate the opponents of trade, and the minority of people hurt by expanded trade. It's an unfortunate Army of Davids effect.

The answer however, is that business must do a better job of organizing those who benefit from trade, and get them engaged in the trade debate. All consumers benefit from the improved products and prices that trade produces. Most workers benefit from the expanded sales possibilities, as well as the increased efficiency in production that imports allow. However, the small number who are seriously hurt by expanded trade have a greater interest in lobbying than the greater number who enjoy smaller benefits from it. That needs to change.

Business needs to expand the efforts of organizations like Consumers for World Trade, which seeks to educate Americans as to how they benefit from trade. If not, anti-trade forces will continue to gain strength and the gains that have been made since World War II will be lost.

Update: By the way, here is a new face of protectionism. Protectionists are not likely to win fights to increase tariffs; the WTO makes it too difficult. But if Poland and the Baltics can prevent Britain and France from selling 'vodka,' then France and England will prevent US producers from selling 'Cheddar' and 'Brie.' Such preferences are one of many thin wedges that can allow protectionism to flourish.

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