TRYING TO salvage an American trade policy, the Bush administration took the unusual step of embracing bipartisanship. Unfortunately, the overture hasn't been reciprocated.
In May, the administration accepted Democratic demands for tougher labor and environmental standards in return for Democratic approval of free-trade agreements with Peru and Panama -- and the possibility of more. "Today marks a new day in trade policy," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said. But last week, the speaker, along with House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Ways and Means trade subcommittee Chairman Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.), dashed those hopes. There will be no more "fast-track" authority for the administration to negotiate trade deals, they declared, until that glorious day when we "expand the benefits of globalization to all Americans." The Panama and Peru deals may still sneak through, although Mr. Rangel will be going to Lima and Panama City soon to discuss how those sovereign nations can change their laws to suit the U.S. Congress. Much bigger proposed agreements with Colombia and South Korea are dead, the Democrats say....
It would be nice if South Korea and other trading partners accepted every item on every U.S. industry's wish list. But that is not the nature of trade negotiations. In the real world, officials must weigh the costs and benefits to the country as a whole -- not to mention the legitimate interests of the other side. One union and the two smaller U.S. automakers should not be allowed to sink a deal that would improve relations with a strategic ally in Northeast Asia and deliver real gains to U.S. agriculture and industry -- not to mention American consumers. The Democrats' partisan embrace of rationalizations served up by labor and (part of) the auto lobby is not "a new day in trade policy." It's protectionism as usual.
Saturday's editorial in Investor's Business Daily is even more clear with "Congress Holds Columbia Hostage":
Congressional Democrats justify scrapping a U.S. trade pact with our best ally in the hemisphere on vague claims its government violates human rights. Last week, Colombia's people saw a different enemy.
It was couched in syrupy language, but it was as bad a blow to Colombia as any dealt by its enemies. The U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means, in a statement by Democrats Nancy Pelosi, Charles Rangel and Sander Levin declared the Democratic Party would deny free trade indefinitely to 46 million Colombians over a few dozen unsolved murders of union activists in the last year.
...Congress was looking for excuses to halt free trade. Why? For the sake of its own union backers, of course, and to curry favor with the leftist think tanks which are enraged about the success of Colombia's popular — and conservative — President Alvaro Uribe.
...[T]he real story of Colombia — [is] a nation struggling against the odds to forge a better future through free trade and democracy. Maybe Democrats ought to start thinking about what they really oppose when they try to paint Colombia as a banana republic and deny it the free trade it's earned.
The ways to kill an economy are not large in number and protectionism by any name is one of the greatest, most dishonest as it can be hidden in the disguise of helping workers and fairness while in reality it is the opposite. Protectionism may help temporarily a few favored industries and a few favored unions at the burden of the consumer, the taxpayer, and the harm done to non-favored industries and those workers. In the long run, everybody loses with protectionist policies.