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Gordon Brown Should Keep Obama Honest On Free Trade

Author: Jagdish N. Bhagwati
March 4, 2009
Forbes Online


Prime Minister Gordon Brown addresses the U.S. Congress Wednesday. He will doubtless touch, as distinguished commentators like Martin Wolf have recommended, on the urgency of fixing the financial (Wall Street) and the interactive macroeconomic (Main Street) crisis.

But, frankly, every layman and economist, from Joe Blow to Joe the Plumber to Joe the Nobel laureate--no parallel to the Three Stooges should be read into this remark--has delivered himself on what needs to be done, with President Obama properly expressing his frustration at all the nit-picking that is creating an atmosphere of chaos and distrust, one that cannot be good for getting things moving quickly again.

Rather, the prime minister needs to address the Congress on where it is notoriously out of step with what is needed today to kill the cobra of anti-openness and near-xenophobia that is threatening us from several directions--and where Obama's track record to date leaves something to be desired. The prime minister, and his foreign secretary, David Miliband, famously warned both Obama and Hillary Clinton during the primaries to cool the rhetoric against trade. Now is the time to ask the president to raise the rhetoric on behalf of trade and, indeed, openness generally.

Obama faces protectionist pressures on trade, of course. Some are pointedly from the labor lobbies who have led the president to use his first meetings with President Felipe Calderón of Mexico and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada to urge on them tougher labor standards, a protectionist demand that arises from unjustified fear of external competition and the consequent desire to raise the foreigners' cost of production.


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