With the war on terrorism its No. 1 priority, the Bush
administration will have an opportunity at international trade talks
starting Wednesday to highlight the link between poor-country
development and global security.
The United States stands to gain in terms of both its image
abroad and long-term security interests if countries that have been
the seedbeds of terrorists get a better shake at prosperity through
international trade, experts say.
A long-elusive agreement reached recently between the US and a
group of developing countries on access to low-cost medicines
patented by US pharmaceutical companies could demonstrate how
additional deals can be reached, particularly in the thorny area of
farm trade. The drug accord, in fact, is seen as breathing life back
into global talks that trade ministers from World Trade Organization
(WTO) countries will convene in Cancun, Mexico.
Yet as the Bush administration takes trade as a tool against
terrorism to the world stage, it is watching over its shoulder how
the issue of international trade and job losses is playing at home.
With trade hitting some specific constituencies - in Southern
textile and Northern steel states, for example, and in Florida's
orange groves - the White House risks taking a hit on the jobs issue
in states that will be key to the 2004 presidential election.
"There'll be reluctance to do anything incredibly bold with the
presidential [election] cycle coming up, but the world situation
today demands looking at trade policy not just as commercial policy
but as foreign policy with ramifications for national security,"
says Brink Lindsey, director of the Cato Institute's Center for
Trade Policy Studies in Washington.
The Cancun meetings mark the midway assessment point in a trade
negotiating round that is supposed to result in some landmark
benefits for developing countries by December 2004. These countries
want a better shake for their farmers and access to pharmaceuticals,
in exchange for developing nations opening their markets wider to
the service industries of wealthy countries.
But with progress slow, some key developing countries had started
predicting Cancun would be a bust much like the ill-fated WTO talks
of Seattle in 1999. The US focus on terrorism and global turmoil
over the war in Iraq were not seen as helping - even after President
Bush linked development and terrorism's defeat in a speech in Mexico
The problem for the Bush administration is that jobs and job
losses are tangible, while the links between trade and terrorism are
indirect. In addition, security benefits from increased prosperity
in poor countries are reaped long term. "There may not be a clear or
immediate link, but as President Bush himself has said, these poor
and failed states are like a cauldron where poverty and disease,
frustration and resentment of the world can brew and come back and
bite you," says Eugenio Diaz-Bonilla, a trade expert at the
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington.
While no one expects the US to make sweeping concessions in
international trade, there is a growing sense that America's
security interests must be addressed in part in the trade realm. …