05 March 2008

Obama the protectionist or the opportunist?

Barack Obama has, disturbingly, made a lot of noise about NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement – which opened up free trade in most goods and services between the USA, Canada and Mexico. Obama, seeking votes from protectionist oriented businesses and trade unions, has called for NAFTA to be renegotiated, essentially to force US environmental and labour regulatory standards upon Mexico. Apparently that sort of imperialism is ok by the left.

However, CNN reports a memo by a Canadian consul official in Chicago, about a meeting with Obama’s economic advisor – Austan Goolsbee – suggests differently. According to the Daily Telegraph , it says “the primary campaign has been necessarily domestically focused, particularly in the Midwest, and that much of the rhetoric that may be perceived to be protectionist is more reflective of political manoeuvring than policy”

Which is positive of course for those of us who aren’t Marxists or nationalists, but doesn’t paint Mr Obama all that well from an integrity point of view.

According to the Daily Telegraph, Mr Goolsbee denies it of course “This thing about 'it's more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy', that's this guy's language. He's not quoting me." The Canadian Embassy, to be fair, is embarrassed that a document from one of its officials is being used for political purposes saying "There was no intention to convey, in any way, that Sen. Obama and his campaign team were taking a different position in public from views expressed in private, including about NAFTA." Though I am sure the Canadians will be relieved if he will!

Hillary Clinton is making hay of it of course. NAFTA has been highly positive both for US consumers (as it has reduced costs for goods and services) and US producers (sourcing cheaper inputs and the rapidly growing market of Mexico) as well as Mexico. A stable growing Mexico will not only reduce poverty there (which apparently Mr Obama doesn't give a damn about), but also provide a wealthier market for US made goods AND reduce incidents of illegal emigration to the US - because there are jobs in Mexico.
US leftwing imperialism to disallow Mexico from competing on the basis of what it largely can offer - lower cost unskilled and semi skilled labour - would impoverish both Mexico and the US. Mexicans without jobs can hardly fight for higher wages and working conditions can they now?

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