Could the US Use a Little Protectionism?

Article excerpt

Though it's a dirty word in many circles, a little protectionism might be good for the US.

Would a touch of protectionism do the United States some good? Protectionism is generally taboo among policymakers and economists. "Being called a protectionist is only slightly better than being called a criminal," states Dean Baker, codirector of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a liberal Washington think tank. It is safe today, though, to take a tough line on trade disputes and, indirectly, do more to protect American interests because the financial crisis has blunted the international program for lowering trade barriers. "Last year's experience has made people much more wary," says Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. The nonprofit consumer advocacy group worries that World Trade Organization (WTO) deals will effectively block reregulation of the nation's financial industry. "People don't believe the promises of free trade have been met," says Andy Gussert, national director of Citizens Trade Campaign, a major coalition of environmental, labor, consumer, family farm, religious, and other civil society groups. It aims to block Bush-era trade deals negotiated with Colombia, South Korea, and Panama, and to seek renegotiation of such important trade deals as NAFTA (involving Canada, the US, and Mexico) and CAFTA (Central America and the US). As a result, prospects for the eight- year-old Doha Round of global trade negotiations under the 153- nation WTO are extremely dim. And with a US president preoccupied with healthcare reform, financial regulation, and the economy, trade liberalization will not get a boost from the country that is normally the biggest fan of breaking down trade barriers. Key countries like India and China "are ready to do business, but the US is not," says Harald Malmgren, a Washington consulting economist who helped negotiate the Kennedy Round of trade talks decades ago. …


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