28 August 2008

Would an Obama presidency mean fair trade?

"Free trade" as we have come to know it is largely a mechanism for making the world safer for corporate exploitation, particularly of cheap labour. The admission of China into the World Trade Organization (WTO) serves as an example. The fact that China deprives its workers of fundamental rights, and the resulting cheap labour offers the country a major trade advantage, has not precluded China from membership. Coerced labour offers a trade advantage not only to China but also to global corporations, and that's the whole point.

Barack Obama's talk of renegotiating NAFTA was quickly suppressed but his running mate, Joe Biden, has long been a defender of the American worker and advocate of fair trade. He insists that protection for workers and the environment be part of all future trade deals and has promised to renegotiate NAFTA. In his words, "The idea that we are not willing to take the prime minister of Canada and the president of Mexico to the mat to make this agreement work is just a lack of presidential leadership." Strong words indeed. Maybe Biden will be free to walk where Obama fears to tread, play the bad guy to Obama's good guy in trade deals. The current state of the American economy may certainly prompt a reappraisal of U.S. trade priorities.

Whether or not Biden will stick to his guns should he become vice-president is another matter. He has, after all, been accused of being an erratic pragmatist on foreign policy issues. Supporters of fair trade can only hope his pragmatism, erratic or otherwise, will apply to the interests of workers and the environment, and not to the interests of corporations. as has been the rule to date.

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