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Obama admin more “pro trade” than it appears, claims new Conference Board of Canada report

Any report that uses the term “pro-trade incumbents in Congress” is bound to be hostile to critics of free trade agreements. Heading over to the Conference Board of Canada website to find out, that assessment holds.

The full sentence, found on page 1 of Marc Busch’s report, is: “Trade-skeptics unseated 13 pro-trade incumbents and won 20 open contests, furthering a trend that, since the 2006 electoral cycle, has seen a net gain of 72 trade-skeptics across both houses of Congress.”

“Trade” here is conflated with “open markets”, which “unseats” the bias in the report. Still Busch does provide a good picture of Obama’s trade team in the administration (and why that team might be even more “pro-trade” than the last guy).

For instance, “Obama has signaled his intention to ask Congress for TPA” – trade promotion (or fast-track) authority, writes Busch. “This is key. TPA allows the president to negotiate a trade deal and then submit it to Congress, which can vote ‘yea’ or ‘nea’ to the deal but cannot amend the agreement. Without TPA, the president lacks credibility going into negotiations with foreign governments (since whatever deal he works out could then be changed by Congress).”

The key to passing new FTAs, says Busch, will be an emphasis on tough enforcement, including of labour standards in the case of Colombia, and the resuscitation Section 301, “which allows firms to petition the USTR to take action against other countries, but has not been used since 1999, when it was largely curtailed by WTO litigation.”

Enforcing labour and environmental standards in the NAFTA region, by bringing the two side agreements within the agreement and making them legally enforceable, will have the effect of weakening them, adds Busch, “because the legal standards applied in dispute settlement will curtail their arbitrary application” – a debatable but interesting point.

Finally, and this is what made headlines, Canada should leave Mexico out of trade talks with the U.S. because the U.S. equates NAFTA with Mexico.

Go to www.conferenceboard.ca to read the full report (you’ll have to sign in first).