Friday, April 25, 2008

Putting a Face on Free Trade

Democrats who oppose the free trade agreement with Columbia (I would say "politician" but I can't find a Republican who opposes the deal) claim their opposition is due to human rights abuses in Columbia, specifically murders of labor officials. Nicholas Kristof points out in this NYT Op-Ed that the real human rights abuse is in rejecting the deal:

Some Democrats claim that they are against the pact because Colombia has abused human rights. Those concerns are legitimate — but they shouldn’t be used to punish people like Norma Reynosa, a 35-year-old woman who just may snip the flowers that go into the Mother’s Day bouquet that you buy.

Free trade is about the rights of individuals not organizations. There are real people in Columbia, like Ms. Reynosa, who are affected when politicians grandstand on free trade. Yes, there are real people affected (negatively and positively) in the US as well, but why should lines on a map decide who is more worthy of our compassion?


bret said...

Freetrade is a wonderful concept. I am a Democrat and am wholeheartedly behind it. Any time you tear down the barriers to trade and even the playing field, everyone benefits. The benefits are realized through higher profits, lower priced goods, more net jobs, more innovation etc..

The premise, however, is based on an even playing field. The playing field is not even. To even the playing field both contries must agree on costs such as worker safety, health care, and environmental protection. If our companies are required to pay these societal costs and our competitors are not, the paying field is not equal.

These are all weighty issues that will require decades of negotiation and cultural change. Therefore I think the debate is not only good, but necessary. We should strive to raise the standards around the globe. It is the only way to compete globally on a level playing field without lowering our own standards.

Joe said...


The premise of free trade is not based on an even playing field. If anything it is based on the opposite. Read about comparative advantage ( Since you are a Democrat, maybe Paul Krugman's defense of the concept of comparative advantage would be more convincing (

Think about it this way. If the goal is to get other countries to achieve our level of labor protections, health care and environmental protection, how would restricting trade with those countries achieve that? We know that as countries get richer, the levels of these protections rises. Wouldn't encouraging free trade and supporting labor and environmental organizations in the countries we trade with accomplish the goal more quickly?

Let's extend the argument a step further. The US has relatively free trade with Europe where many countries have national health care schemes. Since companies in these European countries don't have the burden of health care costs (at least directly), should we demand that they dismantle these systems to "level the playing field"? What about countries with lower corporate taxes than the US? Should we demand that they raise taxes so we have a "level playing field"? Or would you support a cut in coroporate taxes in the US to "level the playing field"?

I would like to see every nation have the same standards as the US, but it is arrogant of us to demand it through trade agreements. The citizens of each country must decide these issues and they will move in our direction sooner if we allow true free trade. Restrictions on trade only delay reaching the goals we share.

Here's another article about comparative advantage and free trade. This one is from Michael Kinsley, certainly no right wing fanatic.

Thanks for your comments.