Steel, antidumping, agriculture and textiles -- in all of these areas the Bush administration has sided with protection-seeking U.S. industries in violation of its avowed free-trade principles. The perennial excuse is "political reality" -- the need to appease powerful interests in order to win congressional support for trade-opening deals.
While some amount of compromise is unavoidable, this administration has offered nothing but. Not once has it told a protectionist business lobby to take a hike. Not once has it advanced a proposal -- whether in the WTO, FTAA, or any other context -- to reform a major U.S. trade barrier. Not once has it spent a dime of the political capital that comes with an 80-plus percent approval rating to fight for the national interest in open markets against parochial interests in protectionism.
So, they say they favor "free trade", but they're not exactly in favor of eliminating the purest form of trade barrier, tariffs. What do they favor?
Well, perhaps elimination of some of the other things that are stigmatized as trade barriers in international trade agreements. Environmental regulations, for instance. As an example, a Candadian company is using NAFTA's Chapter 11 to try to get $1 billion in compensation from California, after the state banned MBTE, a gas additive which was showing up in drinking water. The case will be tried in a secret tribunal, with no public accountability; the citizens of California won't have access to the record of the proceedings even after the fact. The WTO treaties have similar provisions.
This view of Bush trade policy may not be flattering, but it does have the virtue of consistency --- lax regulations favor corporate fatcats, as do the tariffs.