House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's sudden desire to change the rules
on trade agreements carelessly throws into doubt a process that has
brought unprecedented economic prosperity to millions of Americans
-- and billions more worldwide.
At issue: the proposed free-trade agreement with Colombia.
President Bush, concerned that Congress would adjourn this year
without acting on the agreement, formally sent the pact to the
lawmakers April 8. This, in turn, started a 90-day clock for an
The next day, Pelosi announced that the House of Representatives
would void that timetable, likely delaying a vote on the Colombia
deal until after the presidential election in November. The
California Democrat vowed to set aside the "fast track" guarantee
of the Trade Promotion Authority, under which the U.S.-Colombia
agreement was concluded. Regrettably, the House on April 10 agreed
224-195, mostly along party lines.
Before that vote, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney had quickly
praised Pelosi's move, saying, "We applaud her for taking decisive
action to reassert congressional authority over trade."
But changing the rules in the middle of the game strikes at the
integrity of the process, which includes elaborate international
negotiations and much hard bargaining with foreign governments.
If this maneuver stands, U.S. trade negotiators will have a far
harder time persuading counterparts in other nations that they can
deliver congressional approval of negotiated terms -- even if
Congress awards a future president renewed fast-track
Americans should expect far less favorable trade deals, as
foreign negotiators lose faith that the United States will uphold
our end and thus make fewer concessions of their own.
The beauty of the fast-track procedures -- and the up-or-down
vote within 90 says was a key provision -- is that they provide an
incentive for both sides to get to their bottom lines.
Congress already had dealt another blow to the process last
year, when it insisted on renegotiating trade agreements with Peru,
Colombia, Panama and South Korea to insert or "improve" provisions
on labor and the environment. The Bush administration complied,
raising eyebrows among trade negotiators around the world as they
sensed core principles crumbling beneath their feet.
Pelosi's rules change could signal the end for the World Trade
Organization. Its demise undoubtedly would be met with glee by the
AFL-CIO, where Sweeney and other leaders seized on international
trade as a convenient, if false, explanation for the union's
declining membership and influence. The AFL-CIO's remaining grip on
the Democratic Party apparently remains strong enough to insist
that the rest of the economy share in the decline of Big Labor.
All the evidence points to free trade as propelling prosperity,
not only for Americans at all income levels but for people around
the world -- especially the poor in developing countries. They have
seen their prospects bloom as their nations were integrated into
the world economy.
Trade liberalization over the past five decades secured an extra
$9,000 a year for the typical American household. It promises even
more, if policymakers can break down remaining trade barriers.
Shifting from today's global trade regime to one characterized
by perfectly free trade and investment would boost U.S. income by
$500 billion per year, studies indicate.
Developing countries would win, too. The World Bank estimates
that even modestly freer trade -- lowering tariffs on agricultural
and manufactured goods as well as eliminating subsidies and
other non-tariff barriers -- would allow developing countries
to gain nearly $350 billion in income by 2015.
Overall, opening markets stimulates economic growth, creates
economic opportunity, encourages innovation and raises living
Congress, whose approval rating is mired at 13 percent among
likely voters, according to a new Rasmussen poll, should rethink
Pelosi's latest effort to rewrite the rules that her party
Trade is one issue that successive administrations got right,
Democrat or Republican, under policies that lifted ordinary
Americans and enhanced our prestige abroad.
Failure to deliver on our international promises, especially
when the transparent reason is short-term political gain at home,
tells the world that we cannot be trusted. That perception would
only put Americans at greater risk, economically and
Terry Miller is
director of the Center for International Trade & Economics at
The Heritage Foundation, where Daniella Markheim is senior analyst
in trade policy.
First appeared on Foxnews.com
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's sudden desire to change the rules on trade agreements carelessly throws into doubt a process that has brought unprecedented economic prosperity to millions of Americans — and billions more worldwide.
Jay Van Andel Senior Analyst in Trade Policy
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Ambassador Terry Miller
Director, Center for International Trade and Economics and the Mark A. Kolokotrones Fellow in Economic Freedom
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