Bush’s Trade Agreement Legacy

by Roger Alford

In my estimation President Clinton’s greatest economic achievement was securing the passage of the WTO and NAFTA. By contrast, to many trade experts the Bush Administration has not been a forceful proponent of free trade. Steel safeguards and Canadian softwood lumber are exhibits one and two for the case that, when necessary, this administration will sacrifice free trade for other policy or political objectives.

But there is one area where free trade is on the march because of President Bush. The Bush Administration is proving to be a landmark one in the history of trade for the establishment of new free trade agreements. Quietly and unassumingly, the Bush Administration is moving toward an impressive legacy of free trade agreements.

Already the Bush Administration has signed FTAs with thirteen countries: Chile, Singapore, Australia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Morocco, Bahrain, Oman, and Peru. Of course, most of these fall within the rubric of CAFTA. With the signing of CAFTA, the United States now has trade accords with the two largest U.S. export markets in Latin America: Mexico and Central America. Consider this news summary on CAFTA:

The U.S. exports more than $15 billion annually to Central America and the Dominican Republic, making it the 10th largest export market worldwide, and larger than the export markets of Russia, India, and Indonesia combined. CAFTA levels the playing field, as 80% of CAFTA products already enter the U.S. duty-free under Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) and the General System of Preferences (GSP).

After CAFTA came Peru. On December 7, 2005 the United States signed a free trade agreement with Peru. Trade between the two countries exceeds $5.8 billion and U.S. exports to Peru in 2004 were $2.1 billion.

The remaining years of the Bush Administration will focus on new countries. Negotiations are under way with ten more countries: Colombia, Ecuador, United Arab Emirates, Panama, Thailand, South Africa, Batswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and Swaziland. Each individual country may not be a significant trading partner standing alone, but as noted here, “New and pending FTA partners, taken together, would constitute America’s third largest export market and the sixth largest economy in the world.”

Then in today’s trade press comes the news that the United States is considering FTAs with Switzerland, Korea, Egypt, and Malaysia. The U.S. has set an informal late January or mid-February deadline for formally announcing that it is launching official negotiations with new FTA partners.

Thirteen FTAs so far. Ten more in current negotiations. The possibility of an additional four, including Switzerland. It may not be the WTO and NAFTA, but it is a quiet and quite impressive free trade agreement legacy.


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