Will free trade be a victim of “fair” trade?

Inserting more stringent labor provisions into U.S. free trade agreements was a major focus at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing yesterday. Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-NY) and other Democratic policymakers pushed U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab to ensure that trade pacts include enforceable labor standards based on core international standards.

Legislators on both sides also blamed trade for the loss of U.S. jobs and called for more worker security.

The day before (February 13, 2007), Congressional leaders, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and the Chairman and members of Ways and Means, sent a letter to President Bush urging him to take strong action to deal with the trade deficit and to act aggressively against “unfair” trade policies of such countries as China, Japan, and the EU. Here are just a few of their recommendations for “fairer” trade:

Acting aggressively to stop currency manipulation by Japan and China, including by initiating investigations of each countries’ practices under section 301 of U.S. law and WTO cases under Articles VI, XV, XVI and other relevant provisions of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), as we have repeatedly urged;

Enforcing our rights in the WTO by bringing cases against China’s intellectual property rights violations, and E.U. discriminatory trading arrangements;

Enforcing U.S. trade remedy laws vigorously, including by maintaining the ability of the United States to address strategic dumping through the continued use of the zeroing methodology, as provided for under the WTO rules as written; and

Ensuring U.S. workers, farmer and businesses have an effective means to address China’s rampant subsidization of its industries by ensuring that countervailing duty actions can be taken against subsidized Chinese exports.

It seems ironic that while the leadership is promoting the benefits of negotiating and reaching out in the political sphere instead of taking aggressive military action, it is arguing for a hard-line protectionist policy in the trade arena. Doesn’t sound like a good approach to greater global harmony.