Now that CNN has called the race for Senator Barack Obama, it’s time to ask — Will President Obama be good for global trade? My prediction: yes.
Over the last several months, I’ve been asked this question by a lot of people who care about global trade. Indeed, Candidate Obama generated a fair amount of concern with statements that suggested he’d put the brakes on trade. For instance, he called the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) a “bad” trade deal, criticized the U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement, and opposed the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). For a detailed accounting of Candidate Obama’s statements on the subject of trade, visit the Council on Foreign Relations website.
Candidate Obama’s statements notwithstanding, I predict President Obama will be good for trade. Some more specific predictions:
1) President Obama will be far more pro-trade than his campaign statements would suggest
Because of the electoral college system, U.S. presidential campaigns are all about swing states — states where the electorate is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. For some reason, the most evenly divided states (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan) are states that have been particularly hard hit by globalization. Therefore, it’s not surprising that a candidate for president would employ anti-trade rhetoric. (Indeed, I’m surprised when candidates don’t employ anti-trade rhetoric!) With the campaign over, President Obama will be intensely focused on enacting policies that can jump-start America’s economy. Will these policies be pro-trade or anti-trade? To answer this question, I look at the economic advisers that Obama has surrounded himself with. At the top of this list: Robert Rubin, the former Goldman Sachs executive turned Clinton Treasury Secretary, who is decidedly pro-trade. In the months ahead, look at who President Obama appoints to key economic posts in order to assess whether my prediction is likely to be right or wrong.
2) President Obama will be more effective than his predecessor at facilitating new trade agreements
Over the last eight years, America’s unilateralist stance — in a number of arenas — has diminished its ability to play a constructive role on issues of concern to the global community. President Obama will put an end to America’s unilateralist stance which will likely enhance America’s ability to lead on, among other things, trade. And leadership is needed. The failure of the Doha round and the failure of governments to effectively coordinate on consumer safety issues are just two examples.
But let’s say President Obama proves effective at facilitating new trade agreements; will he be able to get them passed here in the U.S.? My prediction: yes. Republicans tend to support free trade, while Democrats need some convincing. A Democratic president is far more likely to succeed in bringing enough Democrats along to ensure passage — either by including “fair trade” provisions, or via old-fashioned arm-twisting. It’s no accident that NAFTA was passed while a Democrat was in the White House.