Monday, August 6

RealClearPolitics: The Democrats Dither on Trade

The backtracking on free trade in South America has been among the frustrating news for me coming out of the beltway. Considering how the economic downturns in Latin America affect us through the increase in illegal immigration, I would think more Americans would be fighting for this one as loudly as they fought for the failed Immigration legislation.

Democratic presidential candidates like to talk about "turning a page" in America's relations with the rest of the world. But what does that mean, in practical terms, on bread-and-butter issues such as trade? Are today's Democrats a party of open markets and economic development, or of market restrictions and job protection?

The answer is that leading Democrats seem to want both -- they favor economic development overseas but not at the cost of U.S. jobs. That sounds like a coherent position until you begin to look carefully at the political choices in Latin America, a part of the world where U.S. trade policies are tightly interwoven with national security interests. Tougher trade policies could embolden the anti-Americanism embodied by Venezuela's rabble-rousing president, Hugo Chávez. 

The problem is that most Democrats (and many Republicans) lack the basic clear understanding of economic principles. Trade is not a zero-sum game. Economic development overseas does not translate in less jobs in the US. And, David certainly has a point that taking steps back in our Trade agreements would only embolden Chavez and the rest of the socialist crazies.

So what are the Democrats doing about trade? Well, they dither. Democratic leaders in Congress say they may bring trade agreements with Panama and Peru up for a vote this fall, after gaining concessions on workers' rights and the environment. As for the Colombia agreement, it appears dead for this year. The Democratic presidential candidates, meanwhile, are scurrying to follow the party's base, rather than trying to lead it, on trade. The Democrats want to turn a page, but in the case of Latin America, they may be turning it backward.