Is Kerry a ‘free trader’? Does it matter?

From the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty con­ven­tion, Matthew Ygle­sias (thanks, “Ben”: offers us half a piece of com­fort: bq. Lau­ra Tyson is, as we speak, assur­ing us that a Ker­ry admin­is­tra­tion will not break with Bush-Clin­ton-Bush­pur­suit of mul­ti­lat­er­al trade and invest­ment agree­ments. (“Matthew Yglesias”: Ygle­sias inter­prets this assur­ance as mean­ing that “Ker­ry would be bet­ter for free trade”, although a con­tin­u­a­tion of the cur­rent Pres­i­den­t’s record on mul­ti­lat­er­al trade is not all that reas­sur­ing. Some actions that stand out in the Admin­is­tra­tion’s record: the 2002 Farm Bill, the “steel quotas”: and “continuing”: (thanks to Alex Tabar­rok) tex­tile “ ‘safe­guard’ ”: action com­bined with lead­er­ship in the Doha nego­ti­a­tions that has so far been, to put it kind­ly, “mud­dled”: and an atti­tude to ‘out­sourc­ing’ that sug­gests the Pres­i­dent is “uncomfortable”: with the idea of imports. Of course, no Aus­tralian can com­plain too much about the Bush admin­is­tra­tion’s sup­port for our recent­ly con­clud­ed Free Trade Agree­ment. But even there … the refusal of the US side to con­sid­er any lib­er­al­iza­tion of it’s sug­ar bar­ri­ers or to open mar­kets for dairy or peanuts or beef in under 20 years, or to agree to mutu­al immu­niza­tion on trade rem­e­dy actions (as in the US/Canada frame­work) takes some of the shine off the deal. The Bush admin­is­tra­tion has done some good things, it’s true. I would nom­i­nate their recog­ni­tion that launch­ing the Doha round in Decem­ber 2001 would con­tribute to greater glob­al secu­ri­ty dur­ing trou­bled times as prob­a­bly their most imag­i­na­tive for­eign pol­i­cy action. Like “Daniel Drezdner”:, how­ev­er, I’m dubi­ous about whether Pres­i­dent Bush can claim a free-trade badge. Does it mat­ter whether Ker­ry is cast in this same ambigu­ous mould—or bet­ter? Does it mat­ter as much as the com­po­si­tion of Con­gress and the agen­da of it’s key Com­mit­tees (Sen­ate Finance, House Ways and Means)? On bal­ance, I think it does. The Unit­ed States con­sti­tu­tion­al set­tle­ment on trade puts the source of author­i­ty in the Con­gress but the role of nego­ti­a­tion in the Exec­u­tive. Dur­ing most of the last cen­tu­ry the Con­gress del­e­gat­ed author­i­ty to the Exec­u­tive for prac­ti­cal rea­sons with rel­a­tive­ly few strings attached. But since the ‘Rec­i­p­ro­cal Trade Agree­ments’ leg­is­la­tion of the mid-1980s there has been a pro­gres­sive ‘claw back’ of ini­tia­tive to the Con­gress, dri­ven by some of the same pop­ulist, sec­tion­al pres­sures that Fareed Zakaria describes in his provoca­tive book “The Future of Free­dom”: While the ini­tia­tive of any admin­is­tra­tion is held hostage to the Con­gress’ grant of nego­ti­at­ing author­i­ty, these pow­er­ful coali­tions of region­al and indus­try-based lob­bies seem to have much greater mobil­i­ty and impact on the direc­tion and even the con­tent of US trade pol­i­cy than any US Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive. (Per­haps that explains why no USTR has stuck it out through more than one term in the White House, at least as far as I can recall). Pos­si­bly the most impor­tant rea­son to hope that Matthew Ygle­sias is right about Sen­a­tor Ker­ry is that a ‘free trade’ White House will be the first line of defense—for the US as well as for­eign economies—against a pro­tec­tion­ist Congress.

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