Wednesday, March 28, 2007

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An odd, optimistic moment on trade policy

The Financial Times' Eoin Callan reports that with deadlines on the horizon, suddenly Congress and the President are getting serious about trade policy:

Hank Paulson, Treasury secretary, on Tuesday intervened in negotiations with Congress over US trade policy in a bid to save President George W. Bush’s economic agenda for his last two years in office.

The direct involvement of the Treasury secretary is a sign that the White House is escalating its efforts to broker a consensus on trade with Democrats.

The Bush administration has until Saturday under the president’s fast-track trade promotion authority to notify Congress that it has finalised outstanding Latin American trade deals and completed negotiations with South Korea.

Democratic leaders on Tuesday unveiled a set of proposals on reforming US policy that they said brought them to the “brink” of an agreement to advance new trade agreements....

Charles Rangel, chairman of the ways and means committee in the House of Representatives, said the personal involvement of Mr Paulson was instrumental in creating a last-minute opening for a consensus on trade.

“We could not have got here without him,” Mr Rangel said.

The former head of Goldman Sachs joined the administration with a mandate from the president to lead economic policy.

His involvement will put pressure on Susan Schwab, the US trade representative, to concede Democrats’ demands.

Ms Schwab on Tuesday welcomed the Democratic proposals as “a good faith effort in a continuing dialogue” but did not endorse them.

The reforms are intended to act as a “basic boiler template” for pending and future trade deals and call for “a fair balance between promoting access to medicines and protecting pharmaceutical innovation in developing countries”.

You can access the Democrat talking points here (link courtesy of Salon's Andrew Leonard).

Most of it screams "boilerplate" -- the question is how much of it will come to fruition and whether it represents a shift in the Democrats' bargaining position. Leonard believes that,"most of it is a restatement of the American labor agenda." but Chris Nelson takes a dissenting view his latest Nelson Report:

Notice that this very clearly does not call for “passage into law all of the basic ILO conventions”...something which has been a standard part of Democratic and Labor rhetoric for years.
If Nelson's read of the language is correct, I suspect a deal will be done. This is now less about trade and a lot about politics. With the administration and Congress deadlocked on Iraq, the U.S. attorneys, and just about every other policy imaginable, the poll ratings for both branches of government are below 40%. Both the administration and the Congress need to look like they're actually governing. If they can sign a deal on something -- anything -- then they can counter this deadlock perception.

Ordinarily, this desire to cut a deal just to get something done is anathema to me, because what usually gets done is some God-awful piece is legislation that everyone regrets a few months later. It also feeds the bias that action is always better than inaction in politics. Ironically, however, this could actually lead to something constructive accomplished on trade policy.


posted by Dan on 03.28.07 at 09:12 AM


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