Saturday, September 12, 2009

The President's Trade Quandries

Trade and globalization: where do they rank on the list of President Obama’s priorities? If you rely on the White House Website, they are not a priority of his at all.

When I checked the Website five days ago, I found that the home page listed 22 “issues,” lined up alphabetically from Civil Rights to Women. Then I clicked on “Additional Issues” at the end of the 22-item list. Seven more popped up, with Faith at the top, followed by six more listed alphabetically, from Arts to Transportation. No Trade or Globalization.

I turned to a “contact us” form, whicd invites the viewer to submit comments or questions for the President or his staff. I submitted the following;

"Mr. President: Why are two highly important issues -- globalization and trade -- omitted from your list of issues and additional issues?. That's very strange. You need to take a clear stand on these issues, considering their impact on American working men and women. I know your advisers would like to duck these issues, but that's impossible. Bob Senser"
I checked a box marked “a response requested.” Today, after getting no response, I scanned the Website again. The 22 issues and seven additional issues were still there as before. No additions.

It occurred to me that Globalization and Trade might be treated under Foreign Policy or Economics. No, they are not.

The President is the midst of a historic struggle for universal health coverage for Americans, a goal that none of his predecessors, from President Truman on, had achieved. I presume that his “issues” staff did prepare drafts at least on Trade, but that anything clear on this controversial subject would ignite additional fireworks, which the White House did not want to set off at this time.

In any case, because of conflicting pressures, foreign and domestic, as well as a less than full grasp of globalization, the President appears to be in a real quandary on trade. But he will certainly have to take a stand of some kind next week, when he addresses the AFL-CIO convention in Pittsburgh, followed by a G20 summit the following week in the same city.

Will he come down on the side of workers? Or on the side of major American corporations whose highly profitable off-shore production, imported into the United States, accounts for 40 percent or more of the huge U.S. trade deficit?

On September 11 the President imposed increased duties for three years on tire imports from China, ruling in favor of a petition by the United Steelworkers and a few U.S.-based corporations. See my article, “Obama Faces Crucial Test on Trade,” for background.

In explaining the President’s decision, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said: “When China came into the WTO, the U.S. negotiated the ability to impose remedies just like this one…Enforcing trade laws is key to maintaining an open and free trading system.”

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