Although international trade policy has not been one of the major points of debate in this years presidential race, determining the role which the United States will play in the rapidly expanding global market will be a fundamental issue for the next administration.
The next president will be forced to deal with a number of important, and in many cases delicate problems, that may change the direction of international trade for the next century. Among these, is the acceptance of China into the World Trade Organization (WTO). The United States has taken a leading role in pushing for the admittance of China into the WTO, but there have been technical problems, preventing the deal from being closed. Of concern also, will be the demands of developing nations, who wish to reach a more equitable trading relationship with the industrialized countries. (Economist) It will be the responsibility of the next president to find working solutions to these dilemmas.
The two major party candidates this election cycle are Republican Governor George W. Bush of Texas and Democratic Vice President Al Gore. The two share similar positions within some aspects of foreign trade policy, but differ significantly on others.
II. International Trade Policy of Vice President Al Gore
Vice President Gore is an advocate of free trade. His support for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which created an open market system between Canada, Mexico and the United States, was the key reason it was passed into law on January 1, 1994 (North American Free Trade Agreement). He believes that open markets spur technological innovation on a worldwide scale, and create tremendous growth and job opportunities domestically (Voter).
In a speech delivered to the Washington Council on International Trade, Vice President Gore remarked that foreign barriers to trade hurt the people they were intended to protect, at the cost of American jobs. An example of this is the European Unions import ban on hormone-treated beef produced in the United States, which sent the livestock industry reeling for several months (Economist). Gore insists that his administration will focus on opening the European and Japanese markets to genetically-modified farm products, in addition to fighting against other foreign trade barriers.
The Vice President does support labor and environmental standards for our trading partners, however. His said the following in a speech delivered to the World Economic Forum: As we open the doors for global trade wider than ever before, we want to build a trading system that includes strong safeguards for workers, for health and safety and for a clean environment. Gore went on to say that trade with developing nations should be linked to established labor and environmental standards and that, if safeguards are not in place and met, the market should not remain open.
Vice President Gore plans to use the WTO as his platform for addressing international trade policies and standards. He is in favor of modernizing the organization and making it more open and accessible to developing nations. At the next round of WTO meetings, Gore proposes detailed discussions regarding labor and environmental safeguards and ways to deal with nations, potentially involving sanctions, which fail to meet the standards (Voter).
Gore was in favor of granting China permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) and has been a key player in pushing for their accession to the WTO. He believes that accepting China as a strategic trading partner enables the United States to politically and economically reform China, while reaping the rewards trading with China has to offer (Groombridge, Voter).
III. International Trade Policy of Gov. George W. Bush
Gov. Bush supports unilateral free trade. He believes that the entirety of the Western Hemisphere, from Alaska to Cape Horn, should exist with no trade barriers, in essence, incorporating Central and South American nations under NAFTA. Such an arrangement, Gov. Bush believes, will add to the approximately 12 million export related jobs that currently exist in the United States (Bush).
The governor adheres to the belief that there should be no link between trade policies and labor and environmental standards. He advocates the United States involvement in working with our trading partners to improve their policies rather than imposing sanctions against them. He does however, support the International Labor Organizations efforts toward labor reform and the WTOs provision that permits member nations to ban prison labor (Bush).
In regards to China, Gov. Bush believes that they should be viewed as a competitor, but should be granted all normal trading provisions (Voter, Bush). In a speech to Boeing employees in Everett, Washington, Bush criticized Chinas policy towards Taiwan, but stated that it imperative to maintain normal trade relations with China in the hopes of opening the country to democratic change. Furthermore, he states, it would be detrimental to the American economy to not participate in a normal trading relationship with them.
Governor Bush also advocates fast-track legislation. This law, in effect for 25 years before being defeated by Congress in 1998, gives the president full authority to negotiate trade policy for the United States. The governor says he would use this power to work on eliminating the trade barriers existent within the Western Hemisphere, while using the WTO to open markets in developing nations and the rest of the world (Fast Track, Bush).
Vice President Gore and Gov. Bush agree on a number of important aspects regarding international trade. First, both realize the benefits of an open market system, while recognizing the pitfalls of trade barriers and restrictions. Second, both the Vice President and the Governor intend to leverage the power of the WTO to open up markets in developing nations, in an effort to expand their economies and potentially democratize their political systems. Finally, while there is a difference in the naming of the relationship with China (the Gore administration will refer to them as strategic-partners while Bushs would call them competitors), Messrs. Gore and Bush believe that it is in the nations political and economic interests to maintain permanent normal trading relations with them.
The two candidates differ sharply on the issue of linking trade to labor and environmental policies.
Vice President Gore argues that sanctions should be used against nations with unfair labor laws or industrial policies that do damage to the environment. He advocates working with the WTO to set standards for developing nations to follow, in order to participate in the international marketplace.
Offering a contrasting view, is Gov. Bush, who believes that the United States and WTO should work with nations utilizing unfair or damaging policies, and help them improve their situation. He states that labor and environmental policies should not be tied to trade. Furthermore, he argues, sanctions should not be used to force adherence to international trade regulations.
The candidates positions on the labor and environmental standards place them in opposition on the issue of Central and South American admittance to NAFTA.
While Gov. Bush would work to gain Latin American countries acceptance into the agreement using Fast Track legislation, Vice President Gore would insist on tighter control over the regions labor and environmental protections.
On the issue of international trade, the candidates share much common ground. But while they are similar in many ways, they differ on one key issue: sanctions against countries that fail to comply with international standards.
One only needs to look across the Gulf of Mexico to see Cuba, and its leader, Fidel Castro, to understand the folly of economic sanctions. For five decades the United States has maintained economic sanctions against Mr. Castro and the Cuban people, in the hopes of fostering the process of democratization. All to no avail (Peters)
If the United States hopes to effect change in developing nations, it must take an active role in keeping the trading market open, while working closely with them to build up and improve their political and economic climate.
It is for this reason, that Gov. Bush has the superior policy on international trade.