Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pro-Obama think tank on trade reform

The Obama administration is getting some strong advice from the Center for American Progress, a think tank headed by transition co-chair John D. Podesta. Among other things, the advice deals with creating “a new and different trade policy –- one that takes a strategic approach to making globalization more inclusive and sustainable.”

How to implement that approach is the subject of a Center report by Ira Shapiro, a former general counsel in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), and Richard Samans, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Their newsiest recommendation:
-- Resist the temptation to lead a revival of the collapsed “Doha Round” of the World Trade Organization (WTO)
-- Do remain a “committed leader” of the multilateral trading system, while also making “new trade arrangements” within the WTO and outside of it.

Their most intriguing recommendation concerns “the special case of Asia” and how the United States could regain “its economic position” there. The report suggests that the Obama administration “reach out to the more advanced countries in Asia as potential partners in a vanguard, global club of advanced economies that agree to pursue deeper economic integration through both free trade and basic consistency of structural, regulatory, and exchange rate policies and institutions.”

“Basic consistency” would include comparable labor, environmental, consumer, and investor protections, the report emphasizes. It envisions that the pioneering members of this arrangement would be the United States, Australia, Singapore, South Korea, and Japan, and that it might serve some nations’ self-interest to have “a counterweight to China’s increasing economic and political clout.”

Whether that particular idea flies or not, the report makes a reasonable case for a “more flexible approach” that regards fundamental policy consistencies as “a sounder organizing principle for [free trade agreements] than geographical proximity or bilateral ties.” The approach thus departs from a founding principle of the current trade regime: that all countries, whether democratic or dictatorial, are treated the same and get the same trade rights and privileges.

Here is what the report says about several of the current trade issues facing the new administration:

NAFTA: Because of global changes in the 15 years since the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect, “it is perfectly appropriate” for Canada, Mexico, and the United States not only to evaluate the agreement but to explore other topics of mutual interest (e.g., better regulatory coordination on food safety).

Colombia FTA: Before this can be ratified, Colombia will have make “sufficient progress” in ending violence and in prosecuting those engaging in violence.

South Korea FTA
: South Korea must address impediments to U.S. beef and auto exports

Presidential trade promotion authority
: Without it (including some version of “fast track”), other nations won’t take U.S. negotiators seriously, but this executive power needs to be balanced by a strengthened role for Congress, even to the point of it helping choose countries for trade agreements.

The report, part of a book titled “Change for America: a Progressive Blueprint for the 44th president,” is aimed at the Office of United States Trade Representative (USTR) and what it should do about “responding to the changing global challenge.”

For the new President, the “blueprint” in the 17-page trade section is obviously subject to change because of competing priorities, not only within the ten-chapter book, but also because of the financial debacle that happened after the book was drafted.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas, Bob and all my old pals.--Bill Lawbaugh