The Corner

Free Trade and The War On Terror

I’m a strong free trader; would abolish tariffs, quotas, and the like unilaterally if it were possible; and have been tough on the Bush administration’s protectionism–see this for example. So I was a potentially easy sell for Luke Eric Peterson’s attack on Bush’s trade rep, Bob Zoellick, in The New Republic. Yet I’m not sold.

Peterson’s complaint is that Zoellick has put trade liberalization with countries that have opposed our foreign policy on hold: “[T]he administration’s new thinking on trade is a throwback to the cold war era, when security considerations rather than economic ones dictated Washington’s trade policy.” I can see that it might be counterproductive to ditch trade liberalization because of larger foreign-policy concerns–even from the standpoint of those concerns. But can we really say that it is never appropriate to let those concerns affect our priorities for trade liberalization? I’ve advocated getting Britain in NAFTA, and I think it would be a good idea economically. But if I were interested only in economics, there are a lot of other agreements I might choose to conclude first. I want this one for strategic reasons. That doesn’t mean I’m less of a free trader.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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