The news that the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization has broken down in Geneva has made many Americans pessimistic about the future of multilateral trade agreements. Politicians on both sides view such protracted negotiations as not worth the effort. Still, multilateral trade agreements are indeed worth pursuit. Often, rounds that appear to have failed in the end do succeed—that holds for the Uruguay Round, which preceded the current one. Over the past seventy-five years trade agreements have helped the United States not only on the economic front but also as a tool in foreign policy. Binding Europe within a multilateral framework, for example, helped secure European nations as allies for the duration of the Cold War. In the multilateral discussion, not only governance but also individual people have mattered. The key to advancing the free-trade cause is political leadership of the sort demonstrated by a heroic but near-forgotten figure, the late secretary of state Cordell Hull of Tennessee.
In this Center for Geoeconomic Studies Working Paper, Douglas A. Irwin of Dartmouth makes the case for optimism. He traces Cordell Hull’s path through the decades and shows how Hull’s legacy lights the way for leaders of both political parties.