Thursday, January 20, 2011

Is Americans for Tax Reform Secretly Fomenting "Conservative/Libertarian" Opposition to the KORUS FTA? (Probably Not, But...) (UPDATED: No, So Who Is?)

A little-known group called "Americans for Free and Fair Trade" has started a new website and PR campaign dedicated to fomenting congressional opposition to the US-Korea FTA.  The group describes itself as follows:
We are a coalition of hard-working taxpayers, grassroots groups and business organizations that want free and fair trade, not managed, unfair trade masquerading as “free trade.”

Many of us are veterans in the fight against NAFTA and other so-called “free trade” fiascos that have cost America jobs and independence. But whether we call ourselves conservatives, libertarians or just “free-traders,” we are unable to support any expansive trade agreement that violates the U.S. Constitution or compromises our national sovereignty and security.
I decided to do a little Googling about this group and came up with very, very little.  However, the anti-KORUS website contains the usual anti-trade myths about manufacturing job losses, the trade deficit, foreign investment, sovereignty, etc., so I casually assumed it was your typical union/leftist front organization (BO-ring!), and thus wasn't even going to blog on the new group and its oddly-sparse website.

Until, that is, a new piece of anti-KORUS propaganda from AFFT came across my inbox today, providing 23 reasons "why even free traders oppose President Obama's Korean NAFTA Trade Agreement (KORUS)."  Hmmm.  I've downloaded that document and embedded it here so you can take a look for yourself; according to a friend, it's also apparently been circulating around Capitol Hill this week.  (Try not to focus on the glaring fact that "Korean NAFTA Trade Agreement" makes "ATM Machine" or "PIN Number" look like frickin' Shakespeare.  It's difficult, I know.  But try.)

Although most of the arguments in here are the same old protectionist gobbledygook, what's somewhat unique about this brochure is that it's trying to sabotage the trade agreement from allegedly "free market" and "conservative" points of view.  For now at least, I'm not going to tackle much of its substance because I've addressed almost all of these "protectionist myths" in other blog posts.  I will quickly note, however, the silly and obvious fabrication that is the "factual basis" of Reason #1.  The pamphlet asserts therein that, according to this Congressional Research Service Report, "Korean GDP will grow 20 times more than the U.S. GDP as a result of this not-so-free-trade."  Now, leaving aside the fact that no sane fiscal conservative or libertarian with even a rudimentary grasp of economics would judge the "free-ness" of a trade agreement on whether it is projected to produce nearly-identical increases in partner countries' respective GDPs, the pamphlet completely distorts what the CRS Report actually said.  The Report notes (pp. 6-7) that varying projections of the FTAs economic effects show an increase in US GDP by between 0.1% ($11 billion) and 0.14% ($25 billion), while Korea's GDP would increase by between .42% and 2.27%.  While this might sound like a big difference, in reality, it's insignificant because the US economy ($14.1 trillion in annual GDP) is about 17 times bigger than the Korean economy ($832 billion):

With this proper perspective, the CRS report actually shows that the KORUS is projected to increase Korea's GDP by an aggregate amount far less ($3 billion to $19 billion) than the United States' GDP increase ($10 billion to $25 billion).  But again, who cares?  Both countries are forecast to experience billions of dollars in GDP growth because of the KORUS FTA!  And this is a reason to oppose the agreement?  Really?  What a joke.

The pamphlet has similar distortions of the CRS Reprt in reasons #10, 17, 19 and 20, and shows its true lack of economic bona fides by citing the Economic Policy Institute's long-debunked data on imports and jobs.  So it's clearly not a piece of serious scholarship and is unquestionably more than a little misleading.

Given these stark and embarrassing realities, it's no wonder that this anti-KORUS campaign's front organization (Americans for Free and Fair Trade) refuses to divulge its true identity and membership.  What is surprising, however, is that when you search the address provided on the pamphlet above (722 12th St NW Suite 400 Washington, DC), you get the home office of the small government, pro-trade Americans for Tax Reform

What the... .?

So could ATR - a renowned champion of lower taxes, limited government and free trade - actually be stoking grassroots opposition to the KORUS using misleading arguments couched in conservative/libertarian rhetoric?  Count me as skeptical.  In fact, ATR recently blogged on the KORUS that:
It is a disgrace that the Obama administration has held this agreement hostage, one that benefits almost all sectors of the economy, to appease just one sector- Detroit automakers and their protectionist unions. Nonetheless, the net gains from this agreement far outweigh the negatives and Congress should move quickly to ratify. Now if only we could get Colombia and Panama done…
That's almost identical to something I penned right after the big KORUS deal went through in December, so that leaves us with one of three conclusions: (1) ATR has had a huge change of heart; and/or (2) the group is running some sort of secret backdoor KORUS opposition movement; or (3) some unethical, anonymous anti-trade outfit has fraudulently used ATR's home address on its deceptive "conservative" anti-KORUS propaganda.  Given the blog post above, I'm opting for option #3, and I've emailed ATR's Director of Communications John Kartch for his confirmation.  When (if?) he chimes in, I'll be sure to update this post accordingly (and then we can start asking whether this new anti-KORUS lobbying campaign - recall, these pamphlets are being handed out on the hill - has moved beyond just smarmy/unethical).

But regardless of who is behind the pamphlet, the extent of this organization's anonymity speaks volumes as to the integrity and veracity of their message, wouldn't you say?  Clearly, if Americans for Free and Fair Trade were confident that their message could withstand proper scrutiny - and as noted above, it clearly cannot - then the group wouldn't need to hide behind a fake address and/or a fake organization name.  Yet they do, and that should tell us everything we need to know about their message and their intentions.

UPDATE: ATR's Kartch just got back to me and says quite clearly that "ATR supports the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement.  There's no such entity on the fourth floor of 722 12th Street NW."  So now we know.


Anonymous said...

"the anti-KORUS website contains the usual anti-trade myths about ... sovereignty"

Are you seriously suggesting that KORUS (and NAFTA before it) do not sacrifice American sovereignty? This is not really a debatable point. They do. It is a question of whether the marginal gains in "free trade" are worth the loss of sovereignty.

Also, do you seriously dispute that KORUS is not managed trade? A true free trade agreement could be written on one piece of paper. It wouldn't need 1000. This is why Austrian school uber free trade purist Ron Paul has come out against it.

And I don't think the name Stop Korea NAFTA is bad English. It is good PR. I suspect (I don't know) it is an attempt to tie the Korea deal to the widely unpopular NAFTA. Something proponents of the deal desperately don't want to happen.

Red Phillips

Scott Lincicome said...

I've replied to your comments on sovereignty here: