Thursday, May 02, 2002

Brink Lindsey touts fast-track trading authority as if... well, as if it had something to do with lowering trade barriers. Unfortunately, we are dealing here with an administration whose own trade representative seems to have never met a tariff he doesn't like, even the textile tariffs which we promised a military ally to eliminate. So, when they talk about reducing trade barriers, it's worth asking what they really mean.

Here's a hint from trade rep Zoellick's New York Times op-ed from last month:

Each agreement without us may set new rules for intellectual property, emerging high-tech sectors, agriculture standards, customs procedures or countless other areas of the modern, integrated global economy -- rules that will be made without taking account of American interests.

So, in Zoellick's view, trade negotiations are about setting standards and rules for intellectual property, biotechnology, and other technologies, at least as much (perhaps more) as, well, lowering barriers to trade --- something in which the trade representative seems not to have much of an interest, day to day, given his support for tariffs, the purest form of trade barrier there is.

What's the significance of that for the rest of us? Well, recall that the United States' existing trade treaties are currently being used as an excuse for weakening American environmental laws in ways which would be very hard to arrange for sans treaty.

To be sure, there's a pattern here that extends well beyond trade, and well across party lines. The odious "anti-circumvention" provisions of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, for instance, were technically the enabling legislation for the WIPO intellectual property treaties. Similarly for the "cybercrime treaty" largely written by the Clinton administration, containing some rather heavy-handed law enforcement provisions which they didn't think they'd get through Congress without being tarted up in diplomatic costume.

But there's a difference between those treaties and trade treaties negotiated with the "fast track" authority sought by the Bush administration. The Senate, at least, gets a chance to amend most treaties; with "fast track", they give up that right with regard to trade. Which is enough of a concern for trade per se; more so if the trade negotiations are being used largely as a medium through which to do deals on other matters entirely.

So what's their real agenda? Here's another hint: they're pushing the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, which will hit environmental regulations harder than NAFTA. And the House fast track vote was much closer than it had to be because the Republicans, guided by the administration, refused to compromise with Democrats on environmental issues, or even child labor.

If the Bush crowd wants to take strong measures to secure the future of free global trade, they don't need another round of negotiations, or any special authority. They can just rescind their own lousy tariffs.


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