Despite trade’s benefits, American sentiment toward it is lukewarm in the best of times, and always vulnerable to manipulation by politicians and media charlatans looking to blame foreigners for domestic shortcomings. Before the end of this year, the 2012 presidential election campaigns will be in high gear—and trade has been a particularly dirty word in stump speeches and political debates in the past. Indeed, one of the reasons for the energetic trade policy push in 2011 is that the political environment next year is expected to be less hospitable to trade initiatives.
The fact that public opinion about trade is so malleable and arguments for restricting it so resonant at times speaks to a failure of free trade’s proponents to make their compelling message stick. It is sad but true that so many Americans need to be reminded of the benefits of being free to choose how and with whom to conduct commerce. But in an atmosphere where demagogues peddle myths to mislead the public into believing that it is preferable for government to limit their choices and direct their resources to chosen ends, it is crucial that the case for free trade be made more clearly, comprehensively, and consistently than it has been in the past.
Thus, in addition to securing the immediate goal of concluding and passing trade liberalizing agreements in 2011, advocates of trade in Congress, the administration, the business community, think tanks, academia, and among the general public should update their arguments and invest in the process of winning the trade debate once and for all. Some of the most compelling arguments for free trade have been only modestly summoned or absent from the discussion for too long.Readers of this blog will find a lot of these themes familiar - for the last two years, I've been regularly