Free Trade Follies

Posted January 3, 2008

Categories: Articles

China has not made much of an appearance in the presidential contest so far. Either of the two Chinas. I’m not talking about Mainland vs. Taiwan. I mean the two Chinas of the American imagination. There’s the cute, cuddly, panda-bear China, as sweet-natured and fun-loving as Jack Black, that produces excellent dumplings, fantastical kung-fu movies, and pretty good Haier appliances. Then there’s China the ogre, the fitting successor to the Soviet Union, the rising adversary that produces substandard toys, steals our jobs, abuses human rights, wants to devour Taiwan and fully digest Tibet, is rapidly building up its military, and just can’t stop supporting other ogres across the seas whether in Burma or Darfur.

To the extent that the candidates have mentioned China, it’s in connection to trade. Obama has written of China as a competitor that has “manipulated its currency for years in order to gain an unfair advantage over the United States in trade.” McCain’s support of free trade has meant pulling his punches: “It sounds like a lot of fun to bash China and others, but free trade has been the engine of our economy. Free trade should be the continuing principle that guides this nation’s economy.” These references to the world’s fastest growing economy have been largely in passing. Neither candidate has bothered to list China on their web pages as one of their defining issues.

Although Iraq is the defining foreign policy issue so far in the presidential race, China will no doubt be smuggled into the election through this rather stark contrast between the Republicans and Democrats over trade. In their effort to woo the working class vote, both Obama and Clinton turned their back on earlier support for free trade agreements like NAFTA. To pick up all the working-class votes he needs in Ohio and elsewhere to defeat McCain, Obama will likely stress his differences with the Republican’s gung-ho free trade position, and that will mean hitting China hard for the massive trade surplus it has generated with the United States. Not to be outdone in China-bashing, McCain will likely argue that China is a national security threat that requires more military spending.

This week, FPIF offers a hard-hitting piece on U.S.-China trade relations. FPIF contributor Robert Cassidy argues that the market access agreement that the United States signed with China so that it could join the World Trade Organization (WTO) has not benefited America except for multinational corporations and financial institutions.

Perhaps you’ve heard this opinion before. But probably not from someone like Robert Cassidy. As former assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Asia and for China, Cassidy was the lead negotiator for the market access agreement in China.
Sober reflection led Cassidy to conclude that the agreement with China did not live up to expectations. “We failed to address the underlying fundamental market distortions that skew the benefits toward the few while leaving the rest of the economy less well off,” he writes in The Failed Expectations of U.S. Trade Policy. “The premise on which our trade agreements are negotiated is at best flawed, if not broken. The next administration has to take a hard look at the trade agreements currently on the table – especially with South Korea – and ask: who benefits? The answers should lead to a fundamental reassessment of what needs to be included in those trade agreements so that the benefits flow to broader and more equitable segments of the economy.”

Free trade, argues FPIF columnist Walden Bello, has certainly not brought benefits to Africa. Kicking off what will be an FPIF series on the food crisis, Bello argues in Destroying African Agriculture that “trade liberalization allowed low-priced subsidized EU beef to enter and drive many West African and South African cattle raisers to ruin. With their subsidies legitimized by the WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture, U.S. cotton growers offloaded their cotton on world markets at 20-55% of the cost of production, bankrupting West African and Central African cotton farmers in the process. These dismal outcomes were not accidental. As then-U.S. Agriculture Secretary John Block put it at the start of the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations in 1986, “the idea that developing countries should feed themselves is an anachronism from a bygone era. They could better ensure their food security by relying on U.S. agricultural products, which are available, in most cases at lower cost.”

More Second Thoughts

Last week, I wrote about Scott McClellan’s revised version of what happened during his tenure as press secretary in the Bush administration. This week we publish a quantitative analysis of the coverage of the lead-up to the Iraq War by The New York Times that bears out McClellan’s contention that the mainstream media were “deferential, complicit enablers.”

According to FPIF contributor Shoon Murray, in McClellan Right: Press Too Deferential, the Times failed to challenge “the administration’s two most incendiary rationales for the war: that Saddam Hussein’s government was pursuing a nuclear weapons program and that he was likely to pass weapons of mass destruction to al-Qaeda or some other terrorist organization that, in turn, might attack the United States. In its coverage of these core issues – so central to the administration’s justification for the invasion – the Times ran three pro-administration comments for every one that questioned the administration’s evidence or reasoning.”

Jonathan Hutto has also had some second thoughts. He is one of the founders of the Appeal for Redress, a group of active-duty military who oppose the Iraq War, and the author of the new book Anti-War Soldier. “It’s evident that ending the war will not come from the politicians in Washington,” Hutto said in an interview with FPIF’s Erik Leaver. “The Democratic Congress, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has not stood firm against continued occupation of Iraq. Historically, it is not the politicians but the people and soldiers within the military who ended the war in Vietnam. The power of the soldier’s movement within was evident with the admission of Colonel Robert Heinl [in a June 1971 article in Armed Forces Journal] that the Army had collapsed and soldiers were mutinous and refusing combat. It will take the anti-war movement allied with citizen-soldiers within the ranks to bring this war to an end and build a more just and humane society.”

No Second Thoughts

The United States missed out on an opportunity to join with 110 countries to ban cluster bombs, an armament as lethal to civilians and irrelevant to combat as land mines. At a recent press conference, a journalist asked a Pentagon official why it couldn’t get rid of cluster bombs. “Well, we – the number one priority of any country’s military is to defend its country,” he replied. “And if our military planners are determined that these are necessary to protect American interests, we – it’s not something that we’re going to unilaterally get rid of.” FPIF contributor Daniel Allen, in an annotation of the official’s doublespeak in A Cluster of Fallacies, points out that “the cluster bomb treaty would be unilateral…except for the other 110 countries that also agreed to abandon cluster bombs in Dublin.”

In the big American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) meeting in Washington last week, the foreign policy focus has been on Iran. AIPAC has called for more sanctions against Iran. It has managed to get bipartisan support from both McCain and Obama for sanctions on Iran’s import of refined gasoline.

But as FPIF contributor Sam Gardiner points out in When Sanctions Are Not Sanctions, “Although the Brits might support us, the United States would be on its own with this one. To effectively carry out these sanctions however, it would mean a naval blockage to prevent ships from carrying refined product into Iranian ports. At least The Wall Street Journal was open enough to mention that the ‘sanction’ would require a naval blockade. And we should be clear – a blockade would be an act of war. I wonder if AIPAC and Senators McCain and Obama know this?”

Don’t Reach for Your Gun

Herman Goering liked to quote from a Nazi play: “When I hear the word ‘culture,’ I reach for my gun.” This week in Fiesta!, FPIF senior analyst Stephen Zunes describes how Estonians, when they faced an army of guns, reached for their culture. “The people of Estonia, along with their neighbors in Latvia and Lithuania, showed how sustained nonviolence could be successfully waged against the Soviet occupation of their country. Music was a key part of this struggle,” he writes in Estonia’s Singing Revolution.

Also in Fiesta!, FPIF contributor Frankie Sturm takes a look at two pictorial representations of genocide: a new collection of photographs and the traveling exhibition Darfur/Darfur. “This ability of pictures to capture our attention is partly due to the inability of language to grapple with a reality as stark as genocide,” he writes in Picturing Genocide. “Few of us ever see it with our own eyes. And no matter how many times we say ‘genocide’ or ponder its meaning in the abstract, no word can adequately convey the intentional extermination of hundreds of thousands of human beings. Full-color photos are particularly distressing. They imply that genocide is not a thing of the far-off past, but something going on today. Our standard black-and-white images, which come from textbooks or films like Night and Fog and Schindler’s List, seem to consign genocide to an unfortunate time gone by. Alas, genocide is still very much with us.”

And on the 100th anniversary of novelist Richard Wright’s birth, E. Ethelbert Miller interviews three scholars on the impact of the African-American author’s book, Black Power, written after a trip to Gold Coast (later Ghana). “The term ‘Black Power’ is an elastic one, with some recent scholars arguing that its antecedents can be found as much in the 19th century as in politician Adam Clayton Powell and civil rights worker Willie Ricks,” James Miller of George Washington University points out. “In the context of the early-to-mid-1950s, Richard Wright was prepared to recognize the possibility in West Africa, but not in the United States.”

FPIF, June 9, 2008

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