Pledging allegiance to U.S. foreign policy

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The Bush Administration has recognized that it can extract much deeper concessions from trading partners by playing them off one another in one-on-one negotiation.

There may come a day when the G-8 protestors whodaubed graffiti on the Geneva headquarters of theWorld Trade Organization will find themselves piningfor the much maligned WTO.

At the Doha Round of world trade talks, the United States is already making plans for life without anothermultilateral institution.

Last month, Robert Zoellick, the Bush Administrationâe(TM)spoint-man on trade relations, told Reuters that the building a “Coalition of liberalizers” in case the Doha Round doesnâe(TM)t reach fruition.

The impetus for the U.S.âe(TM)s new go-it-alone posture was a decision last August by the U.S. Congress to grant thePresident so-called Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). Armed with TPA, the Administration can negotiate free trade deals which Congress can either approve or reject, but cannot subject to amendment or lengthy analysis.

And the new negotiating authority has freed thePresident to consummate relationships with multipletrading partners. In fewer than nine months, talks havebeen launched with Chile, Singapore, Australia, ElSalvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua,Panama and Morocco, and are being explored with a numberof other Asian, African and South American nations.

This explosion of regional and bilateral trade talkshas been a major factor in the WTO DohaRound. U.S. enthusiasm for the multilateral forum hasflagged, as the Administration has recognized that itcan extract much deeper concessions from tradingpartners by playing them off one another in one-on-onenegotiations.

Recently, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellickspelled out the Bush Administrationâe(TM)s new strategy intestimony before the U.S. Congress:

“Since securing TPA, the President has had the key backing we needed to press ahead with tradeliberalization globally, regionally and bilaterally.By advancing on multiple fronts, we are creating acompetition in liberalization.”

Zoellick also gave some indication of what it takesfor countries to win this competition for a trade dealwith the United States: a willingness to prostratethemselves to U.S. foreign policy and national securitygoals.

In a separate speech before the Washington-basedInstitute for International Economics, Zoellick warned that under the Bush Administration: “(A free trade agreement) is not something one has a right to. Itâe(TM)s a privilege.” And when it comes to prospective trade partners, Zoellick noted that the Bush Administration now expects “cooperation — or better — on foreign policy and security issues.”

Indeed, Zoellick conceded that this new litmus testwould make it difficult for the U.S. to consider a freetrade deal with New Zealand, a nation which had failedto support the U.S.-led war on Iraq, and has longrefused to allow nuclear powered vessels into itswaters.

While sounding the death knell for New Zealandâe(TM)s freetrade aspirations, the Administrationâe(TM)s new policy hasbeen music to the ears of neighbouring Australia. Aloyal member of the “Coalition of the Willing,”Australia recently saw its trade negotiations with theU.S. placed on a fast-track, by order of the U.S.President.

Washingtonâe(TM)s new trade policy also has been generatingunease in other national capitals.

Chile, which had concluded negotiations on a tradepact with the U.S. late last year, saw that agreementplaced in jeopardy when it became clear that Chilewould not use its UN Security Council seat to vote forsecond UN Resolution on Iraq in March.

Although the U.S.-Chile deal simply needed to betranslated and signed, for several months its fateremained as uncertain as that of a Guantanamo Bayprisoner.

Only a concerted lobbying campaign by business and key U.S. Senators encouraged the Administration to break itssullen silence late last month, and to announce thatthe agreement will be signed after all.

Other countries are less likely to squeak through thedoor.

According to one Washington-based trade newspublication, the Administration has put the world onnotice of its “long memory” for diplomatic slights. And as countries like Chile or New Zealand slide down, or off, the priority list, more compliant nations,like Bahrain, are moving up the queue.

Although trade in oil between the U.S. and Bahrain isalready largely free, and there are few other seriouseconomic benefits to be had by the U.S. from a tradepact with the tiny Gulf state, the Administrationviews Bahrain as a testing ground for broader freetrade deals with other Middle Eastern nations willingto move closer to U.S. policy objectives.

No longer does the Administrationâe(TM)s approach to tradeliberalization appear to be guided by economicconsiderations.

The long-standing theory of comparative advantage — the notion that countries should focus on producingwhat they produce best, and trade with others fortheir other needs — seems to have been supplanted by a theory of comparative sycophantage, as countriesjostle with one another to pledge their allegiance toU.S. foreign policy goals.

Despite the heavy economic price which comes withbeing frozen out of the U.S.âe(TM)s preferential tradecircle, not all nations are rushing to hand the keysto their Foreign Office over to Washington.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark has beenunapologetic in the face of the U.S.âe(TM)s rebuff: “We have to be free as a sovereign country to make our ownforeign policy.”

At least some Western nations are showing backbone,instead of pursed lips.

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