TRADING OPINIONS: WHAT NOW FOR GLOBAL TRADE?

TRADING OPINIONS: WHAT NOW FOR GLOBAL TRADE?

Like most of us, I will always remember where I was on September 11 when I learned the tragic news. Again, like most of us, I have spent the last days absorbing what has happened, and what President Bush has told us is to come. As we begin this long and complex campaign against terror, a focus on trade policy, or almost anything else may seem strangely beside the point. With all attention focused on defeating terrorism, Congress for the time being seems likely to consider measures only in the context of how they advance that objective.

That doesn't mean that only legislation dealing with military matters and law enforcement will be considered. Clearly, other proposals to support our economy, including the bill passed to support the aviation industry, are high on the agenda. We also know we must continue to do those things (perhaps with even greater intensity) that are important to the wider challenge of global stability and prosperity.Indeed, it was, after all, the World Trade Center that was the target of destruction. Not least because economic freedom and the development of a global economy are antithetical to the world view of the terrorists (even as they have effectively used free societies and modern technology to advance their global terror campaign).

In the wake of the tragedy, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick has made impassioned statements on the need to continue with the World Trade Organization meeting in November. Zoellick said that those who attacked the United States did so because they want us to 'retreat from world leadership.' He is right, and they must not succeed.

Zoellick also said that we would not be deterred from advancing our values of 'openness, opportunity, democracy and compassion.' Absolutely.

He also said, '[t]rade reinforces these values, serving as an engine of growth and a source of hope for workers and families in the United States and the world,' and that trade '...is particularly vital today for developing nations that are increasingly relying on the international economy to overcome poverty and create opportunity.' Zoellick said the events of September 11 make it even more important that Congress provide new fast track trade negotiating authority to the President. In this regard, Zoellick risks stretching the bounds of consensus.

The Bush Administration has shown itself too willing to only see one side of the trade equation. Zoellick still seems inclined to overestimate how many American workers actually see trade as a source of hope; at the same time, he underestimates the skepticism of many people in developing nations that international economic institutions are working in their favor.

Nor should he take the wrong lesson from the decision of the AFL-CIO and other groups uncomfortable with current policies towards globalization and the fast track proposal to call off their protest in Washington timed to coincide with the World Bank and IMF meetings, themselves now cancelled. Total solidarity with President Bush as he mobilizes to defend the country is not the same as agreement on all other policies.

Zoellick says 'we should not deny the benefits of trade until we reach domestic consensus on global application of social policies.' This is shorthand for saying stop trying to link labor and environmental concerns to trade initiatives. Regrettably, Zoellick's statement only underscores why we haven't reached such a domestic consensus.

There is no doubt we must continue to expand international trade as an economic force for positive change. But there is also no doubt that free trade alone is not enough to secure a stable and peaceful world - we must pursue with equal commitment the objectives of human rights and social justice. I have never understood those that thought these ideas are mutually exclusive, rather than mutually supportive.

Why can't we do more to advance freer trade and focus on improving the lives of working people at the same time? Indeed, isn't that the whole point?

Moreover, it seems most unlikely that we can sustain one objective without the other. Global trade policy must be seen as supportive of the hopes of the greatest possible number, rather than the preserve and interest of the few. At the same time, without economic opportunity through open-trade and sound economic policies - without work and jobs - the rights of workers seem of little relevance.

It is welcome news that Ambassador Zoellick called on the Senate to complete action on the Jordan free trade agreement negotiated by the Clinton Administration, which it is scheduled to do today. But it is also the case that what held up consideration of this agreement for many months was opposition to its modest provisions on labor and environment.

An effort to use current circumstances to press forward a trade program without broad bipartisan consensus would risk undermining the very objectives that Ambassador Zoellick seeks. Indeed, the country would be better served by taking the 'politics' out of trade and building upon the consensus that is finally seeing the Jordan agreement move forward. We should use the moment to bring people together on trade for the very important reasons that Zoellick articulates.

Let's hope this happens; current security and economic challenges call out for closing the divide.

Andrew James Samet is with the law firm of Sandler, Travis and Rosenberg, P.A. He served in the Clinton Administration from 1993-2001, and as Deputy Under Secretary of Labor for International Affairs represented the United States at the International Labor Organization.