Thursday, June 05, 2008


Senators Sherrod Brown and Byron Dorgan (and allied interests) have put forward a new trade bill seeking to remake how trade policy is made and which branch of government makes it. Most observers have described it as the triumph of Democratic protectionist interests. Instead, I think we should take a more nuanced view of this bill. It can be downloaded at

There are provisions that deserve support among trade liberalization proponents. For example, by requiring that GAO investigate the impact of key trade agreements, Members, staff, and negotiators as well as the public could gain needed insights into trade agreements upon America and Americans. GAO is also required to seek public comment and hold public hearings. Given American interdependence, it is in our interest to expanding the circle of those who influence and understandtrade policy.

At the same time, much of the proposals are troubling....Members are unlikely to approve such a bill given that it essentially requires the President to renegotiate (and therefore abrogate) existing agreements. Rather than keeping the Executive Branch on a tight leash, the bill proposes that Congress put him in a straightjacket.

The strategy underlying the bill is out of date and based on a flawed assumption. The sponsors of the bill ignore the reality that many of our differences with nations (over labor rights or food safety as example) stems from inadequate governance. Many of our trade partners lack the will, funds, or expertise to put in place stronger regulation and enforce it. Moreover, the bill does little to help policymakers abroad build a demand for higher labor or food safety standards. The drafters simply presume that demanding US determined standards will yield higher global standards. It puts forth no incentives to U.S. trade partners to put time, money or expertise towards higher standards.

Finally, in its demands that Congress create a committee comprised of the chairs and ranking members of each committee whose jurisdiction is affected by trade agreements to review the president’s plan for renegotiations; restore Congressional oversight of trade agreements, the bill seeks to alter the shared oversight put forth by the founders.

Simply dissing the bill and calling its proponents "protectionists" will do little to gain broader support for trade agreements or trade liberalization. Instead they should acknowledge that public and Member concerns about trade deserve both respect and additional fact-finding. It would be interesting if advocates of expanded trade picked up its call for GAO to develop further information on the impact of existing trade agreements. Proponents of freer trade should want to let the record of trade agreements speak-- in a comparison of jobs lost and gained, of benefits and costs to workers skilled and unskilled, and benefits and costs to American (and global) health, labor, consumers and taxpayers and to our polity.

I welcome your thoughts.

No comments: