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Trade Essential to Maintain Living Standards

Author: Edward Alden, Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow
February 25, 2012
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


International trade is not very popular in the United States. Slight majorities nationally opposed the recent congressional ratification of free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. In Wisconsin, an Institute of World Affairs poll found that 51% thought free trade had hurt the U.S. economy, with only 34% saying it had helped.

In the report of the Council on Foreign Relations new Independent Task Force on U.S. Trade and Investment Policy, we argue that the debate over trade is not going to be won or lost in the abstract. The bipartisan group, which included former members of Congress and the administration, senior business and union leaders, called for a trade policy "that brings to more Americans more of the benefits of global engagement."

The skepticism over trade is not terribly surprising. The past decade has been a hard one on many U.S. workers, and it has coincided with a rapid expansion of global trade, especially China's entry into the World Trade Organization. While we all benefit from the cheaper television sets and higher-quality imported electronics that come from an integrated global economy, they are no substitute for a steady job and a reasonable paycheck.

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