Tuesday, March 31, 2009

WSJ: Locke Vows to Push for 'Fair Trade'

An excerpt from a Wall Street Journal article by Amy Schatz:

WASHINGTON -- Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in an interview that he will push for "fair trade" and said countries seeking open trade with the U.S. should abide by "minimum standards" for environmental and safety regulations.

"I've always believed in fair trade. I believe it's appropriate that there's minimum standards that other countries should abide by if we're allowing their products to come in to the United States," Mr. Locke said during an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

"If the apple growers of Washington State have to abide by all these environmental and health and human safety standards and the workers of other countries don't have to, it puts Washington State apples at a disadvantage," said Mr. Locke, a former governor of Washington State. "Same thing with Boeing airplanes. If other countries are able to significantly subsidize the cost of development and production of an airplane then it puts Boeing at a competitive disadvantage and it hurts the aerospace workers of America."

Mr. Locke's comments, during an interview on his first day on the job, echo the sentiments of many congressional Democrats and U.S. unions skeptical of the benefits of free trade. They have called on the administration to curb access to the U.S. markets for countries with less stringent environmental and labor safety rules.

Congress recently cited safety concerns as the justification for blocking access for Mexican trucks on U.S. highways outside a border zone. The Mexican government retaliated by slapping tariffs on about $2.4 billion worth of U.S. products ranging from grapes to toiletries. President Barack Obama is trying to defuse the conflict.

Going forward, lawmakers will have to seek a good and just balance between limiting trading restrictions and seeking labor and environmental protections in treaties with trading partners. My guess is that the U.S. will lean more towards using fair trade as an excuse for protectionism, judging by Sec. Locke's tone. However, I invite Gary Locke to prove me wrong.

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