The Opinion Pages|CONTRIBUTING OP-ED WRITER
Free Trade Disagreement
Thomas B. Edsall
The seemingly neutral term “advisory committee” serves to obfuscate the immense influence of commercial interests with privileged access to the formation of the trade policy of the United States.
Interestingly, one of the few institutions equipped to shed light on trade negotiations – the #media – has cut back on coverage of trade issues.
Lori Wallach, director for the past two decades of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, responded by email to my inquiry about news coverage of trade:
“During NAFTA/WTO, there were trade beat reporters at every major national outlet and many of the bureaus of decent-sized regionals. But now trade is one of, say, four or five subjects assigned to a reporter at a national print outlet. The Wall Street Journal is the exception to the rule - they have a full time trade beat reporter and so do Reuters and Bloomberg.”
The diminished news coverage comes at a time when the scope of trade agreements has grown tremendously. These agreements go well beyond traditional market access issues of tariffs and quotas to become de facto industrial policies.
On Sept. 8 last year, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts declared in a speech to the AFL-CIO:
“Why are trade deals #secret? I’ve heard people actually say that they have to be secret because if the American people knew what was going on, they would be opposed. Think about that.”
Warren is right. Trade negotiations have, in fact, become so wide in scope, with so many losers and winners, that negotiations cannot be conducted in the open.
The case of trade reflects a larger shift in the balance of power. As multinational or “stateless” capital diminishes the sovereignty of individual countries, including the United States, and strengthens the autonomy of international corporations, it weakens the already fragile economic security of millions of out-of-work Americans. Their plight appears to be unheeded in the world of “advisory committees.” One can only fear what comes next.