Despite a dispiriting start that saw the imposition of steel tariffs, the Bush administration has made great efforts on trade, pushing forward with both multilateral and bilateral deals. Its biggest goal, a substantive deal from the Doha round of World Trade Organisation negotiations, is currently on life support. But the administration has managed to secure a variety of smaller deals, while letting steel tariffs die a death at the hands of the WTO. Now even progress of that sort may end.The Bush administration has made great efforts on trade?!? The Bush administration's imposition of tariffs on China are due to "Democratic influence"?!?
Already, the Democratic influence is showing on the administration’s trade team. On Friday March 30th it announced that it was imposing countervailing tariffs on Chinese manufacturers of high-gloss paper to offset indirect subsidies they get from the state. America has usually steered clear of this sort of action against state-run economies, saying it is prohibitively difficult to calculate excess subsidies. But the gaping trade deficit with China, and growing protectionist forces, have altered the political calculus. New tariffs of up to 20% will be imposed immediately. The American economy will survive without cheap Chinese paper products. But this could open the way to tariffs on a wide variety of critical products and signals an unwelcome shift in American trade policy.
Please. With the imposition of tariffs on China last Friday, the Bush administration acted in exactly the same way that they've acted for their entire 6+ years in office: being in favor of free trade whenever and wherever it helps important
Furthermore, the Doha Round (the round of multilateral trade negotiations that is intended to finally take serious steps toward helping the developing world) is "on life support" in no small measure because the Bush administration has never seriously tried to make it work, instead focusing on small bilateral agreements that make no difference to anyone in the US except for a few individual corporations. And there are good theoretical reasons to think that a bunch of small bilateral trade deals may actually make it harder to conduct multilateral trade negotiations, putting a world-wide level playing field further out of reach than ever before.
The Bush administration's record on trade policy is a hodge-podge of opportunism and indifference, and owes nothing to Democratic pressures or desires. For the Economist to pretend otherwise is a sad continuation of their baffling tolerance of Bush's long record of incompetence and misplaced priorities.