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Free vs. Fair Trade: Council Report Presents Two Paths for U.S. Policy

Related Bio: Daniel W. Drezner, Professor of International Politics, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University
August 30, 2006
Council on Foreign Relations

Trade accounts for nearly a quarter of U.S. gross domestic product. In recent decades, trade has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty around the world. Furthermore, trade policy inevitably affects national security, employment stability, environmental protection, labor standards, health issues, immigration, and monetary policy—all of which makes the recent implosion of the Doha trade talks all the more significant.  

While policymakers agree that promoting trade expansion serves U.S. national interests, they disagree on how to accomplish this goal. U.S.Trade Strategy: Free Versus Fair, by Tufts University’s Daniel W. Drezner, is a primer on trade policy. Written as a policy memo to an American president, this Council Critical Policy Choice (CPC), published by CFR press, does not argue for a particular policy but outlines two distinct options.

The “free trade” approach seeks to ensure the full realization of the economic and political benefits of free trade. It recommends a renewed commitment to the success of the Doharound of trade negotiations through top-level U.S.involvement in the negotiations and a willingness to resist domestic political pressures regarding issues such as outsourcing, textiles, and agriculture.

The “fair trade” approach seeks to balance the economic benefits of free trade with other values—community stability and income security, for instance—even at the cost of foregoing some of the benefits of trade. This approach recommends a tougher stance, in trade negotiations and in Congress, to ensure receptivity to American exports and to stem the tide of outsourcing and other potential threats to U.S.interests.

“Trade has become one of the most significant and controversial subjects in the international arena,” said Council President Richard N. Haass. “It is also one of the most complex. This book provides students, professors, and others a basic text that will help them better understand the many dimensions of trade policy and help them sort out where they stand on this critical issue.”

In addition to presenting these two alternatives, the book includes background papers on four recurring challenges to U.S. trade policy: balancing America’s trade and current account deficits, managing the intersection of trade policy and issues such as intellectual property and labor standards, supporting workers adversely affected by trade, and harmonizing the multiple tracks of trade diplomacy. The resulting product is a compact, accessible volume on the substance and politics of trade policy.

Contact: Brittany Mariotti, CFR Communications, 212-434-9679, bmariotti@cfr.org

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