NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Democrats Have History of Backing Free Trade

December 7, 2001

Now that the House has approved by the slimmest of margins -- a 215-214 vote that closely tracked party lines -- a bill to give President Bush "fast track" authority to negotiate trade agreements, political historians are questioning why so few Democrats supported the legislation.

The political answer is that they voted as the AFL-CIO wanted them to vote. But their anti-trade stance yesterday was out of synch with the Democratic Party's historical support of trade expansion.

  • Democratic President Woodrow Wilson had a vision of a peaceful world united under democracy and free trade.
  • Franklin Roosevelt initiated trade liberalization during the Great Depression.
  • Harry Truman launched multilateral trade under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade after World War II.
  • And John F. Kennedy called for deep tariff reductions.

All rounds of trade negotiations since the 1970s have been supported by special authority of the sort passed by the House yesterday.

A CIA-sponsored task force recently examined dozens of social indicators to find those that predict the collapse of states in the developing world. It found that three variables were the most powerful predictors of political chaos: lack of democracy, closure to world trade and high infant mortality.

Trade specialists warn that zapping trade initiatives not only wounds the U.S. economy and workers here. It also invites the anger and resentment of developing countries -- thereby further jeopardizing our national security.

Source: Jeffrey D. Sachs (Harvard University), "Democrats Should Back Free Trade," Wall Street Journal, December 4, 2001.


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