Our last two presidents... Republican George Bush and Democrat Bill Clinton... are both strongly enthused believers in free trade agreements as a way to both strengthen the U.S. economy and bring much-needed commerce to poorer, non-industrialized nations.
When President Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (with Canada and Mexico) on September 14, 1993, he grandly exuded:
"I believe that NAFTA will create a million jobs in the first five years of its impact... NAFTA will generate these jobs by fostering an export boom to Mexico...
"So when people say that this trade agreement is just about how to move jobs to Mexico so nobody can make a living, how do they explain the fact that Mexicans keep buying more products made in America every year? "
As NAFTA failed to live up to the golden promises of its supporters, the American people soured on free trade.
"The survey by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes is one of the most comprehensive U.S. polls on trade issues.
It found that support for free trade fell in most income groups from 1999 to 2004, but dropped most rapidly among high-income respondents — the very group that registered the strongest support for free trade in the past."
On May 11, 2007, Congressional leadership unveiled its "New Trade Policy for America", which requires inclusion in all new U.S. trade pacts of provisions protecting workers and environmental standards in all parties to the agreements, as well as certain other hot-potato protections.
This new trade policy statement, drafted jointly with the White House, was intended to draw a majority of bipartisan support from the Senate and House. But the vaguely written document pleased almost no one...
And the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month:
"By a nearly two-to-one margin, Republican voters believe free trade is bad for the U.S. economy, a shift in opinion that mirrors Democratic views and suggests trade deals could face high hurdles under a new president."
As of late October 2007, four free trade agreements or extensions are languishing, as President Bush vociferously goads Congress to pass these pacts with Peru, Colombia, Panama and South Korea.
The burning question is: Is free trade good for America? And is it good for its trading partners?
Democratic lawmakers are divided on the complex subject of free trade, as are Republicans. Most Americans, fed up with the outsourcing of millions of U.S. middle-class jobs to other countries, are uneasy with free trade agreements.
To help you quickly understand this important issue, I've written a new article, Pros & Cons of Free Trade Agreements.
And join me in the lively discussion about free trade agreements in Liberal Politic's Forum .
(Graphic: Symbol of the North American Free Trade Agreement)