NYT soft-balls trade protectionism

New York Times editorial today urges the Obama Administration to take a stronger role in supporting open trade, more specifically, to reinstate the pilot program for Mexican trucks transporting goods in the U.S., which sparked a Mexican tariff retaliation.

But the editorial, while criticizing President Obama for “ambivalence” on trade and his position on the North America Free Trade Agreement, gives a limp excuse for Obama’s refusal to take a stand on the trucking provision in the stimulus package:

President Obama has so far shown a worrying ambivalence about trade. He has called for renegotiating Nafta, creating anxiety in both Ottawa and Mexico City — claiming that this can somehow be done without harming trade. While he managed to persuade Congressional Democrats to water down a “Buy American” provision in the fiscal stimulus package, he did not get them to pull it altogether.

We understand the White House did not want to threaten the passage of the spending bill by raising a ruckus over Mexican trucking, a comparatively minor issue. But it is time for Mr. Obama to put some political muscle behind his declared support for open trade.

Don’t think the Mexican government sees the trucking issue as a “minor” one.  After all, it represents a violation of NAFTA provisions.  And it’s likely to be hard to fix.  Trade unions, with the Teamsters in the lead, have long used the trucking issue as their NAFTA bête noire. They also provided strong support in the 2008 elections for Democrats, including Obama, for their anti-trade, anti-globalization stances. The Democratic majority isn’t likely to take the unions on — unless President Obama makes it a priority.