Magazine article The American Prospect

Trading on Terrorism: What Free Trade Does for National Security (Nothing). (Gazette)

Magazine article The American Prospect

Trading on Terrorism: What Free Trade Does for National Security (Nothing). (Gazette)

Article excerpt

"SOMETIMES," U.S. TRADE REPRESENTATIVE Robert Zoellick said recently, "tragedy also presents opportunities for those who are alert." Sure enough, in the collapse of the World Trade Center, the alert Mr. Zoellick saw an opportunity to appeal to wartime patriotism in order to put new trade deals on a congressional "fast track."

Fast-track authority allows a president to negotiate trade agreements and then present an amendment-proof text to Congress for an up or down vote. The fast track, ordinarily a routine courtesy, has been in trouble lately. Led by Democrats angry over Bill Clinton's trade policies, Congress in 1998 refused to reauthorize the fast-track rule. Today, a majority of House Democrats also want to deny it to George W. Bush unless he guarantees that trade agreements will protect workers and the environment as well as investors. Such considerations are now irrelevant, argues Zoellick, because unregulated trade is an essential weapon in the president's war on terrorism.

Delighted with Zoellick's new offensive, the Republican-controlled Ways and Means Committee approved his bill in mid-October, 26 to 13, with only two Democrats supporting it. The business lobby, fresh from convincing the House to pass an absurd set of corporate-tax giveaways, is rolling out the lobbyists and television ads to add fast track to their list of post-September 11 triumphs. At this writing, the bill has not yet been scheduled for floor action because the Republicans still lack the votes.

Whatever the fate of fast track this year, Zoellick's campaign is both symbol and substance of a new effort to smother the globalization debate. For its part, the antiglobalization movement that has dogged the global economic establishment from Seattle to Genoa is already in some disarray because of the public's sudden distaste for street demonstrations.

But free-trade policies were already in big trouble before September 11. For one thing, the U.S. economy is no longer capable of sustaining the bigger trade deficits needed to buy third-world allies more access to U.S markets. For another, laissez-faire trade is no longer credible as the economic savior of the third world. Since the global system shifted to an essentially unregulated system of capital movements and currency speculation, global growth has slowed and inequality widened. Heavily Muslim East Asian countries such as Indonesia and Thailand, with no particular prior sympathy for radical Islamists, were savaged by global currency traders in the late 1990s. Not surprisingly, they are less than resolutely pro-American in the current crisis.

ZOELLICK MAKES TWO ARGUMENTS in his case for trade as an economic "counteroffensive" against terrorism. First (as he wrote in The Washington Post): "Trade is about more than economic efficiency. It promotes the values at the heart of this protracted struggle." Just so. One such value, at the core of U.S. trade policy for the last 20 years, is that American-style capitalism is so superior a way to organize society that we are fully justified in forcing third-world countries to adopt it.

Zoellick argues for expanding agreements such as the Uruguay Round and NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. In both cases, U.S. trade negotiators required poor countries seeking access to our markets to remake their economies in our image. Reinforced by pressure from the U.S. State and Treasury Departments, as well as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, fragile political economies have been forced to downsize and privatize government, deregulate agriculture, and open up their borders to volatile hot money from first-world financial markets.

But others around the world do not necessarily share our faith in what George Soros calls "market fundamentalism." Indeed, the world is full of dispossessed people who blame their wretchedness on what they believe are the consequences of the economic and cultural values that we celebrate. …

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