Bashing trade pacts hurts U.S. stature

Marketplace Staff Oct 18, 2007
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Bashing trade pacts hurts U.S. stature

Marketplace Staff Oct 18, 2007
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KAI RYSSDAL: And then there were seven. There are reports this afternoon Kansas Senator Sam Brownback is going to drop out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination tomorrow. Brownback has trailed in most of the polls. And he reported having just $94,000 in his campaign bank account earlier this week. On the Democratic side, the leading candidates are talking about what they’ll do to restore America’s place in the world. Commentator Dan Drezner says they should start by paying close attention to economic policy.

DAN DREZNER: Democrats have criticized President Bush for tarnishing America’s image across the world — and rightly so. The administration’s bellicose rhetoric, unilateralist impulses, and blundering in Iraq have not played well abroad.

Of course, this begs the question of what Democrats will do to improve America’s relations with the rest of the world. No more wars of choice, I presume. Beyond that not-insignificant step, what else is there?

Frontrunner Hillary Clinton is providing a confused answer to this question. Her campaign website proudly declares that as president, Clinton would restore America’s standing in the world. Last week, however, she proposed that we reassess our trade agreements every five years and demand adjustments to them if necessary, starting with NAFTA.

This proposal makes me wonder if Senator Clinton understands the value-added of these free-trade agreements, or FTAs. The dirty secret is that most FTAs do not have large effects on the American economy, but they do yield foreign policy dividends. These agreements cement ties with key allies. They offer a guarantee to these countries that their relationship with the United States — and their access to American consumers — will not be disrupted. Compare the unease and mistrust that characterized Mexican-American relations prior to NAFTA with the past 15 years. The effect can be dramatic.

In short, trade agreements improve America’s standing in the world. But Senator Clinton’s proposal would strip these agreements of the very certainty that makes them attractive to our allies. How does Senator Clinton think our trading partners in the Middle East, Central America, and Pacific Rim will react to her proposal? How is this proposal any different from the unilateralism that Democrats have condemned for the past six years?

I’m glad that Senator Clinton wants to restore America’s image in the world – but I hope she realizes that protectionist stunts will make that task much, much harder.

Dan Drezner teaches international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. His most recent book is “All Politics Is Global: Explaining International Regulatory Regimes.”

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