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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

March 17, 2009 at 4:37 PM

Trade protections

The need for a truly new world trading order

The Associated Press

Andean women attend the People Summit, an indigenous forum in Lima, Peru, last year. South American indigenous groups were criticizing free trade ahead of a trade summit.

Editor, the Times:

Jon Talton claimed that the “specter of protectionism” is haunting the world economy [“Deep recession threatens new world trading order,” Business, March 15]. I hope his intention was not to reinforce the false dichotomy that is so often presented in terms of our trade policy.

Protectionism is not the only alternative to existing “free trade” policies. As Talton himself points out, there are plenty of forms of managed trade, or alterations to existing trade policy, that might address the imbalance of winners and losers.

U.S. trade policy is currently not particularly “free.” Our trade agreements are replete with subsidies, limitations to domestic procurement rules, and many other less-than-free provisions. Washington state’s industries that benefit the most from trade include agriculture and high-tech exports like Boeing planes; both these industries rely heavily on subsidies and migrant workers (documented and not).

Neither of our biggest exporting industries function under a textbook “free-trade” system. So why is it seen as so absurd and dangerous to suggest strengthening labor and environmental safeguards, removing imbalanced foreign-investor privileges, or regaining local autonomy over procurement rules — all of which would require a fundamental revision of existing trade policy?

It is certainly accurate to indicate that Washington state and its congressional delegation need to advocate for a solution that doesn’t mean turning our backs on trade. But solutions need to involve fundamentally revising existing NAFTA-style trade policy that has created so many net losers around the country. It should not mean simply a continuation of the status quo (i.e., pending trade agreements with Panama, Korea and Colombia negotiated by the Bush administration).

If our current economic woes have taught us anything, it is that we need a new new-world trading order.

— Stephanie Celt, director, Washington Fair Trade Coalition, Seattle

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