Unhappily, trade is often viewed as a dull subject, full of
arcane detail lost on most of us. But like health care, which can
be equally tedious, the matter is nonetheless important, so we must
pay attention to it.
Trade is actually no more than a duplication of our personal
experience on a grand scale. We all spend our working lives
exchanging labor for money and arguing about the terms of the
International trade agreements are also about the terms of
exchange. And just as the rules governing the sale of our labor are
imperfect, so are those of international trade.
The latest GATT deal, while flawed in many respects, is
nonetheless a distinct improvement over the current rules. The
alternative, which we very nearly got, was no deal at all.
The perfect must not be viewed as the enemy of the adequate.
In the infinitely difficult circumstances of bargaining among
117 sovereign nations, any agreement at all must be regarded as a
Because we live in the present and the immediate future, a deal
promising more trade by reducing some barriers, even if not all, is
That the pact contains blatant and bizarre exceptions is simply
an unavoidable fact of life. That politics, national pride and the
power of special interests helped create them is only to be
More important is that these special interests - which by and
large like things the way they are - could not kill the deal.
The GATT agreement also conferred three particular benefits
that have received insufficient attention.
The first is what it does for economic growth in the Third
The West's commitment to gradually remove barriers to trade in
textiles will permit developing countries to earn more by selling
what they produce for less than anyone else. This will put
additional money in the hands of their people.
If there is any hope for worldwide growth, Third World
consumers need much higher incomes than they presently have in
order to buy what the West wants to sell them. Trade gives them
many times what direct foreign aid does or could.
As well, the reduction in tariff barriers keeps the West on the
path to open markets, crucial to Third World prosperity. In an era
of rising unemployment and recession, the opposite result could
easily have occurred. Indeed, it nearly did.
What's more, opening Third World markets to Western goods -
even if only slowly - will increase their imports, spurring
competition and reducing prices, again raising the people's incomes. …