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    Democrats "Can't Have it Both Ways on Trade"

    03/11/2008

    Sens. Obama and Clinton are scape-goating NAFTA and free trade on the campaign trail as the pander to the Democrat base.  Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria deftly explains why the candidates can't have it both ways:

    The facts about trade have been too well rehearsed to go into them in any great detail, but let me point out that NAFTA has been pivotal in transforming Mexico into a stable democracy with a growing economy. And, in Lawrence Summers's words, "[it] didn't cost the United States a penny. It contributed to the strength of our economy because of more exports and because imports helped to reduce inflation." Trade between the NAFTA countries has boomed since 1993, growing by about $700 billion. There are no serious economists or experts who believe that low wages in Mexico or China or India is the fundamental reason that American factories close down. And labor and environmental standards would do very little to change the reality of huge wage differentials between poor and rich countries' workers.

    An argument one often hears from the candidates' supporters is that they don't really mean what they say, that their actual proposals on trade agreements involve only minor tinkering. It is an odd defense of candidates promising change, honesty and a new approach to politics to say that they are being cynical and hypocritical. Besides, both candidates are proposing to renegotiate NAFTA, which is a terrible idea. (And one that has prompted the Canadian prime minister to retort that if that happens, his country, too, would like to get more concessions from the United States.) Hillary Clinton has proposed that free-trade deals be re-evaluated every five years, which is absurd. The benefits of trade deals rest on the fact that they are permanent.