Wednesday, December 5, 2007

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Just remember, Hillary is the one with the foreign policy experience

Last month I said the following on NPR's Marketplace:

[T]rade agreements improve America's standing in the world. But Senator Clinton's proposal would strip these agreements of the very certainty that makes them attractive to our allies. How does Senator Clinton think our trading partners in the Middle East, Central America, and Pacific Rim will react to her proposal? How is this proposal any different from the unilateralism that Democrats have condemned for the past six years?

I'm glad that Senator Clinton wants to restore America's image in the world - but I hope she realizes that protectionist stunts will make that task much, much harder.

I hereby owe Senator Clinton an apology -- I forgot to include Europe in the list of regions that are not taking too kindly to Clinton's brand of trade policy.

The Financial Times' Tony Barber and Andrew Bounds explain:

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner in the US presidential campaign, came under fire from Europe’s top trade negotiator on Wednesday for suggesting that, if elected, she might not press hard for a new global trade pact.

“The apparent scepticism about a Doha world trade deal that Mrs Clinton expressed in the Financial Times this week, and her suggestion that there is a need to shelter American companies and interests from foreign investment, are a disappointing sign of the times,” said Peter Mandelson, European Union trade commissioner.

His remarks represented an unusually direct intervention by a foreign politician in a US presidential election.

Mrs Clinton told the FT she believed certain free trade theories might no longer be true in the age of globalisation, but she emphasised “there is nothing protectionist about this”.

Mr Mandelson, at a Brussels globalisation seminar, said: “Politicians have a huge responsibility not to overstate the risks attached to open investment, because we have nothing to gain from a protectionist turn in global markets.”

The former high-ranking UK government minister added: “That is why I would argue that Hillary Clinton’s doubts about the value of a Doha trade deal are misplaced.”

I know Hillary Clinton's had a rough week or two, so in fairness to her, it should be pointed out that she's not the first Democratic presidential candidate to be on the receiving end of foreign criticism.

Still, isn't this sort of fracas exactly the kind of thing that an experienced Hillary Clinton was supposed to avoid?

See Greg Mankiw on the substance of Clinton's claims regarding trade theory. Or check these posts from three years ago.

posted by Dan on 12.05.07 at 11:56 PM


Receipt of criticism from abroad is a feature, not a bug, for Democratic presidential candidates.

posted by: Doug on 12.05.07 at 11:56 PM [permalink]

Yeah, our deals with China are working so well, we are getting so much respect.

And Prof., up to 1/3 of your childrens' toys may be tainted with lead, but heck, trade is always good.

Trade should be expanded, but the one-sided deals will have to stop or there will be more populist backlash.

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 12.05.07 at 11:56 PM [permalink]

Yeah, well, in Germany we have the saying "the soup is always eaten colder than it's being cooked".

So I guess it's reasonable to assume that some populistic free-trade bashing in an electoral campaign - while beneficial with some groups now - doesn't matter a lot when it comes to implementing policy one, two, three years from now.

posted by: Roland Kappe on 12.05.07 at 11:56 PM [permalink]

First, Hilary must distinguish herself from the Tom Freidman school of "if its called a free trade agreement, I'll support it." Free trade is good, trade deals are not always reflective of that good, and for democratic voters it is important to show you have this credibility.

Second, WTO officials would have less cause for concern if they had actually wrapped up Doha. But they haven't, and my guess is they won't. So Hilary's potshot will have no effect because she taken aim at something that is already dead.

Bush pushed away the moderate Dems by making it a partisan issue to curry favor with the business community, and the left has gone delusional over trade since Lori Wallach started spreading her lies 15 years ago. If free traders want to have something substantial in the future, they will have to build a coalition from scratch. The only way to do that as a president is to show that you understand the costs, otherwise no one will believe you when you pitch the benefits. Clinton and Obama both understand this. I'm waiting for a republican to say anything about it, but they are apparently too busy firing their immigrant gardners to explain their theory of international trade.

posted by: RT on 12.05.07 at 11:56 PM [permalink]

Some of the comments on this thread and others I have seen lately remind me of the oft-repeated great blogospheric debate of the decade's first years -- George W. Bush: Master Geostrategist or Prize Doofus?

Every so often the President would come out with some statement or action radically at variance with the kind of President he had promised to be in the 2000 campaign, or that appeared to contradict a formal statement of his own administration, or that seemed to rely on a logic that was not immediately evident (the designation of an "Axis of Evil," a trio of governments two of which had long records of much greater hostility toward one another than either had for any other country, was one of the latter). The debate in the blogs would commence.

A few people would jump in with straightforward denunciations, and a few more with more analytic posts pointing out the ways in which the President was wrong. This would provoke a response by numerous posters (on sites like Dan's, for example) declaring that Bush understood more deeply than we could see, outlining what was assumed to be his strategic outlook and counterintuitive tactical genius. The Axis of Evil had lots of blogospheric defenders.

Most people can't be national politicians, or aspire to influence national politicians. This creates a powerful temptation to project one's own thinking onto the politician with whom one most sympathizes, either generally or on one particular issue. Bush is not unique in having attributed to him strategic thought and long-range calculation, attributions that could not possibly have been based directly on anything he said or did, but could have flowed quite easily from what his supporters wanted to believe.

So, too, someone like Sen. Clinton appears now to be making protectionist noises to get through the early Democratic primaries, noises she will act on as long as she needs the support of people who oppose trade liberalization. Could she be trying to lay the foundation for trade liberalization later by showing she understands the cost of trade liberalization now? In the abstract, sure. It's not theoretically impossible. Is there any reason to think this is actually what she has in mind? Nope. Not unless one really, really wants to believe it.

posted by: Zathras on 12.05.07 at 11:56 PM [permalink]

Don't forget that Ms. Clinton is still running against George W. Bush for some reason and also that her official campaign song is "Blowin' in the Wind."

posted by: Useless Sam Grant on 12.05.07 at 11:56 PM [permalink]

Replying to Zathras, you are correct that I cannot read Clinton and Obama's minds as to their true intentions, but I think if you read between the lines and look at their advisors, they both appreciate the merits of free trade. I think there is a distinction between them and Edwards on this. In 1992, BC hedged on Nafta, but if you read between the lines you knew where he was going. I think the same is true for these two.

Setting aside whether I'm right about where she will end up, I think the more important point is that with these statements a move to support free trade is possible. Without these statements a candidate will have no credibility to build a consensus on trade in the future.

It used to be that anti-trade sentiment, like anti-immigrant sentiment rose and fell depending on how robust the economy was. In good times, opposition couldn't get traction. That is no longer true, as anti-trade opinions gathered steam during the boom years of the 90s. Those of us that support free trade need to recognize this erosion in support and realize that support for trade is not the default position. To have the WTO folks peeved and perplexed is a small price to pay for working toward the larger goal. And it will make them appreciate that they have a harder job selling Doha than the last round.

posted by: RT on 12.05.07 at 11:56 PM [permalink]

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