LETTERS to the Editor

Harvard International Review, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

LETTERS to the Editor


A More Revitalized Trade Agenda

Ambassador Charlene Barshefsky's article is entitled "A Revitalized Trade Agenda" (HIR, Fall 2000). Although the subtitle--"Complications and Directions in World Trade Policy"--appears to limit the article's scope, her exposition is a good basis from which to project a more ambitious conception of a "revitalized trade agenda" than that which the article provides.

As she recounts in considerable detail, US free-trade initiatives since World War II have been very successful in lowering trade barriers for most of the world and, in the process, have helped to raise living standards in the United States and in many other countries participating in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and its successor, the World Trade Organization (WTO). But the initiatives now under consideration should be more ambitious than the agricultural, services, and other sector agreements that the ambassador's article envisages for the next decade's global trade agenda.

In addition to a more far-reaching foreign economic strategy, an innovative domestic economic strategy is needed to reinforce a more ambitious free-trade program and to ensure the political viability of plans currently underway. Prosperity in the nation as a whole is essential for this purpose, although it is not the only requirement.

Foreign economic strategy should not be limited to another round of trade negotiations in the mold of previous GATT rounds, nor to sector-based free-trade agreements like those already negotiated on various products and services, nor even to bilateral free-trade agreements with specific countries. Instead, foreign economic strategy in the future should project a fully multilateral, explicitly free-trade charter focusing on the removal of all trade restrictions by participating countries in accordance with a realistic timetable, coupled with appropriate provisions regarding labor and environmental standards and other matters essential to fair international competition. Modification of the timetable could be permitted in case of authentic emergencies. Economically advanced countries initially hesitant about participating will do so when the costs of not participating become obvious. This strategy can also provide duty-free access to developed countries for an array of developing countries without the need for immediate reciprocity.

The United States began reciprocal, explicit free-trade agreements in the 1980s, first with Israel, then with Canada, and then in the early 1990s--under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)--with Canada and Mexico. A freetrade agreement with all of Latin America is currently being contemplated, but there is no momentum behind such a negotiation. …

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