Cokie and Steve are “free traders” — for real

“Free-traders” Cokie and Steve Roberts have penned another of their syndicated columns promoting the benefits of free trade. Yes, that’s right. Their latest column hits hard at the labor unions that got the Democratic leadership to craft a “bipartisan trade deal” with the Administration. That deal would mandate that enforceable labor and environmental standards will have to be included in all trade agreements, including already completed trade deals with Panama, Peru, and South Korea.

That’s exactly the kind of reactionary, head-in-the-sand view expressed by the labor leader we quoted above. And that’s exactly why Democratic leaders have to stand up to their old friends in the labor movement and tell them the truth: trade is vital to American prosperity and security, and you don’t get a veto here.

As ardent free traders, we have long been skeptical of including labor and environmental rules in trade deals. They smacked too much of protectionism, and seemed to have one aim: Raising costs for foreign firms and making their products less competitive in the world market.

But the Democrats’ triumph last fall created a new reality. No new trade pacts will now clear Congress without labor and environmental standards included. So the Bush Administration (which shared our skepticism) was right to show flexibility and take the deal.

The Robertses point out that labor unions also don’t want to extend “fast-track” trade authority so that the President can negotiate trade agreements and then have an up-or-down vote by Congress. They note that would halt any progress on the WTO’s Doha Round of negotiations.

Don’t think the Robertses will be welcome in some Democratic circles. Already the Huffington Post’s David Sirota is accusing them of harboring anti-labor views. Here’s one of the many posts by CEI providing a different view.