Robert Reich on Free Trade
Former Secretary of Labor; Democratic Challenger MA Governor
A: I don’t think it was a mistake, but it wasn’t really a tremendous help. If you put labor and environmental standards into our trade agreements, it’s not a race to the bottom. If you have an environmental standard and a labor standard that, for example, bars all slave labor, guarantees the right to organize, maintains kind of minimum labor standards throughout the world, you are setting a floor for all nations. It’s not protectionism. This is a way of actually getting everybody up rather than having the bar continue to trend downward. We tried to do this in NAFTA, and, unfortunately, we couldn’t get the Mexican government support. We tried to have a labor and environmental side agreement. I think it would have been a much better agreement had we had that.
Rather than advocate for less trade, progressives should seek to remove barriers that make it difficult for poorer countries to export to richer ones. That means fewer subsidies to farmers in advanced nations, combined with lower tariffs on farm products from the third world and fewer barriers (including “voluntary restraint agreements”) to textile and steel imports from poor nations.
[In a 1999 poll] a majority of respondents thought the global economy will hurt average Americans. The only people in the survey who were positive about globalization were those earning more than $75,000 a year, a distinct minority.
Why this backlash against globalization? Simply because most peoples’ jobs are more precarious now than ever before. And while trade isn’t the only culprit -- it’s also technology, and fierce domestic competition -- trade is the easiest culprit for most people to understand.
It’s not Seattle that’s going to make a lasting political imprint. It’s the backlash that lay behind Seattle. And that backlash is growing.
Speaking to an International Labour Organization (ILO) meeting, Reich voiced strong support for the ILO’s International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC) for helping to raise public awareness about the problem.
He also praised a pilot program, recently launched with US government assistance, that
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