There seems to be the impression that free trade and fair trade are diametrically opposed positions. However, free trade can be fair if we don't throw the baby out with the bath water. I am an importer and I deal with international trade policy on a daily basis. The policy impacts my bottom line and varies depending on the country I deal with. The idea of creating free trade in order to achieve global economic equality is technically correct and will achieve that means in the long term. It is an inevitable fact. However, we have to ask ourselves what type of cost we are willing to pay in order to reach that goal. In fact, the goal of free and equal trade cannot be achieved without a strategic framework that supports workers rights. Right now we have a policy that is hollow in many areas. In China, a country I frequent, there are a mass of workers making goods at low costs. They receive low wages and often times long term benefits from their work is lacking. The situation is very similar to the United States labor conditions during the 1920's. I have never seen gross negligence or brutal treatment of workers with my own eyes. However, it does exist not only in China but also in sweat shops that can be found in the garment district of Los Angeles. The problem here is not necessarily economically based but politically based. Chinese workers cannot organize or collectively bargain for their wages. For all intents and purposes, if you are dealing with a factory that is large and not family owned then you are contributing to the continued indentured servitude of these people. However, not buying these goods is not the answer because many Americans have no choice but to buy these goods because of their lack of income in a society where the value of real wages has dropped over the last 30 years. It is not reasonable to believe that a social movement will create change in this regard. Trade and interdependence with other nations is the path to lasting peace. However, within that framework we cannot trade our values for cheap goods. Free trade is not only about the free flow of goods both ways but a standard of employment that recognizes basic human rights. We cannot and should not engage in free trade agreements with nations who are not willing to enforce these standards. This movement is happening in the USA because the rich are getting even richer by this strategy and people like Thomas Friedman are seen as economic prophets who cannot be questioned. In the case of China, it would be appropriate to levy countervailing duties on goods produced by factory's who do not allow their workers to collectively bargain or form unions. However, we are dealing with this fact in the USA with companies such as Walmart who threaten their workers with loosing their jobs if they intend to try to unionize. Don't forget Wisconsin. If we desire to live in a world of opportunity for all people then we need to distance ourselves from bullet points and the simplification of issues and engage in complex and difficult concepts. The people are not stupid. We need to respect them. At this time the issue of free trade verses fair trade is just a proxy for Progressive verses Conservative cat fights. This is another wedge issues that simplifies the debate and puts the separate factions in predefined categories. You end up being an animal in the zoo rather than a trailblazer as a result. We must be on guard for this type of political strategy because it will be the largest methodology used against any emerging third party. We are going to be pushed back and forth by both parties in order to paint us Red or Blue.
Here is my position; we should seek global free trade over the long term through establishing an economic bill of rights for all workers and shareholders. They are equal players in the economic system who should have an equal voice. When shareholders/owners and workers are happy then there will be less conflict, crime, war and broken families; not to mention a serious of other benefits. It should take shape over a phased process that takes decades. We should have a long term plan to phase out unnecessary duties on goods that are imported into the USA and ensure that countries are not charging duties on our goods. We should excentuate the comparative advantage that each nation has and, if a comparative advantage does not exist, the global community should seek to foster a comparative advantage for each country. Policies such as agricultural subsidies such as exist in the USA and Europe impede this process. We should put pressure on counties such as South Korea who seek free trade for their imports but regulate the amount of cars we can export to them. You can't have free trade when the other side isn't acting very free. It is not a one sided relationship. The WTO is not an efficient vehicle for the expansion of trade because it represents the interest of the World Bank and does not put the elimination of poverty as its highest priority. It is subservient to profit making for those who hold the economic power.
The fastest way to eliminate poverty is through global free trade but, again, that is not an easy road and the pundits continue to try to say that if you are not for the USA signing free trade agreements with the whole world, all at once, then somehow you are a communist. This summer we are probably going to find our country signing three free trade agreements. But the question is, will these agreements only give the advantage to the large corporations in the USA and the other countries or will it empower the workers and shareholders within those countries? We cannot have a balanced and healthy system when the blessings of innovation and labor are not shared with all who are involved. People don't like feeling ripped off whether they are millionaires or middle class.
This is a complex issue and I think we should establish subcategories to talk it through step by step because economic policy is the weakest area in the other parties. They are almost unintelligible most of the time in their view of economics. We could be the dominant party on economic issues. It is going to take a group of us talking about it in an academic and organized way to achieve this and many of use, to include myself, may get our core belief's rocked by the "truth" presented by others.
"Take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another." FDR