Seattle Times editorial columnist Bruce Ramsey stopped by Drinking Liberally last night, and I immediately groused about how a dearth of irritating editorials in recent weeks has reduced me to dumpster diving over at Crosscut. Ramsey explained that he’d just returned from vacation, and that my complaint would be remedied in the morning with an editorial he penned on trade.
He didn’t disappoint: “Anti-trade bill that would hurt Washington state trade jobs should be stopped.”
At the risk of destroying his credibility with his co-workers, I have to admit that Ramsey is my favorite Times editorial writer (though as I explained to him last night, “it’s a pretty low bar”), largely because I find his columns both readable and consistent. The latter quality I attribute to his passionate libertarianism, a passion clearly on display in today’s editorial:
The Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment Act makes private commerce subject to the moral imperialism of advocates who do not conduct trade and don’t care about it.
Under the bill, if a foreign trading partner’s government doesn’t have “adequate labor and environmental regulations” — the adequacy determined by busybodies — the trade can be stopped.
If the foreign government hasn’t “taken effective steps to combat and prevent private and public corruption” — the effectiveness defined by busybodies — the trade can be stopped.
If the foreign government doesn’t have “transparency” and “due process of law” to suit American tastes, the trade can be stopped.
Uh-huh. Passion… check. Consistency… check. Facts… not so much.
Putting aside his efforts to dismiss those of us who care about human rights and environmental protection as mere “busybodies” (you know, “busybodies” like the Pope), Ramsey’s passionate hyperbole substantially misrepresents a bill that doesn’t actually include the authority to “stop” anything. Rather, the stated purpose of the TRADE Act is to review existing trade agreements, draw up standards on which to base future agreements and renegotiations, and provide greater Congressional oversight of the process, its main provisions consisting of:
- Require a comprehensive review of existing trade agreements with an emphasis on economic results, enforcement and compliance and an analysis of non-tariff provisions in trade agreements.
- Spell out standards for labor and environmental protections, food and product safety, national security exceptions and remedies that must be included in new trade pacts.
- Set requirements regarding public services, farm policy, investment, government procurement and affordable medicines and compare them with components of current trade agreements.
- Require the president to submit renegotiation plans for current trade pacts prior to negotiating new agreements and prior to congressional consideration of pending agreements.
- Create a committee made up of the chairs and ranking members of each committee whose jurisdiction is affected by trade agreements to review the president’s plan for renegotiations.
- Restore congressional oversight of trade agreements.
All existing trade treaties remain in force, and this bill provides no authority to modify or “stop” them. As for future agreements, the language within the bill is far from anti-trade or heavy handed, for example, Section 4, Subsection D:
(D) provide that failures to meet the labor standards required by the trade agreement shall be subject to effective dispute resolution and enforcement mechanisms and penalties that are included in the core text of the trade agreement…
In truth, the “busybodies” Ramsey refers to are members of Congress, and even if they were to determine that a particular trading partner was, say, violating fundamental human rights (defined in the act as “the rights enumerated in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights”), they still wouldn’t have the power to unilaterally “stop” the trade as Ramsey implies. Rather, under future treaties, our government’s recourse would be to pursue “effective dispute resolution.”
Hardly a draconian, anti-trade provision.
Ramsey is right that Washington is perhaps the most trade dependent state in the nation, which makes trade a sensitive subject for members of both parties. And if anybody doubts the extent to which “free traders” like Ramsey control the debate in this state, look no further than the fact that none of our state’s House delegation are among the 110 U.S. representatives who co-sponsored the TRADE Act… not even typically reliable progressives like Jim McDermott and Jay Inslee.
But Ramsey does a disservice to our state and to his readers when he reduces a 44-page bill into a 229-word, knee-jerk screed against trade restrictions of any kind:
The idea behind this bill is that commerce is bad and is making workers in America poor. Tell that to workers assembling aircraft, writing software, or moving containers on the docks.
Yeah, well, tell that to the tens of thousands of Washington workers who have seen their jobs shipped overseas to low-wage nations with lax environmental, workplace and product safety standards, and often no right to organize at all.
I appreciate that Ramsey’s objections to this bill are consistent with his steadfast libertarianism; in fact, I almost respect it. But rather than foster informed public debate on this issue, his intent appears to be to quash it, and I expect better than that from my favorite Seattle Times editorial board member.