The Republican White House and the Democratic Congress have reached an agreement on a new kind of trade pact. It applies to pending agreements with Columbia, Peru, Panama and South Korea. What is distinctive about these trade agreements is that they go beyond the simple exchange of goods. They oblige the parties to observe certain labor and environmental conditions.
The current move recalls our experience with the North American Free Trade Agreement under President Bill Clinton. It involved only three countries — the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The immediate impact of Nafta was a flood of jobs out of the U.S. into Mexico by companies in search of cheaper labor. Under the agreement, the U.S. could have insisted that Mexico elevate its labor standards. For whatever the reasons, Clinton chose not to do so.
The pending pacts make it imperative that the governments involved see to it that the rights of labor be observed and that environmental conditions are not endangered. To which we say: Two cheers for the Democrats in Congress and the Republicans in the White House for their proposed trade pacts.
Why only “two cheers” and not three cheers?
We are withholding our third cheer until such time as the U.S. applies the principles of the pending agreements to U.S. trade with China and India.
At the time of the American Revolution, the American colonials “fired the shot heard round the world.” If we and our democratically minded allies applied our joint powers to elevate the status of those who labor in China and India, we would indeed be global liberators.
But don’t hold your breath.