False Advertising on Free Trade?

Article excerpt

"This is the biggest single trade initiative in history," said one administration official of the so-called Bogor declaration agreed to this week in Indonesia by the United States and the other 17 members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. It would be truer to say, as one critic did, "It doesn't require anybody to really change anything."

Trade liberalization is the Holy Grail of our age. President Bill Clinton and many others promote it at every opportunity. It's a sound idea, but achieving it requires more than rhetoric. Realism is necessary. The idea of converting all of East Asia, from Indonesia to Korea, to a free-trade zone in 25 years and marrying it to the West isn't very realistic. Promising it comes dangerously close to false advertising.

Of course, free trade between Asia and the West - in this case, the United States, Canada and, oddly, only Chile so far from Latin America - would be a spectacular achievement. Collectively, the group accounts for 40 percent of world trade and 50 percent of the world economy. Opening all these markets to one another would benefit everyone. But the method proposed is unlikely to work.

The industrial countries promised the developing Asian nations they wouldn't turn protectionist and freeze them out. In return, the Asians promised open access to their fast-growing economies. …

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