Industrialists and politicians all agree: free trade is "good" and "fair" if our team wins. That is the crux of this piece, along with honesty to discuss what is "good" or "fair" in the context of national interest to renew membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO). I come down (uncomfortably) on the side of extending U.S. membership in WTO but with misgivings that national outcomes and sovereignty are jeopardized. Questions of sovereignty are only real due to our federal Legislative branch being overwhelmingly populated by vain men and women more interested in themselves than the public's interest.
On 27 June 1994, the House of Representatives agreed by a 288 to 146 vote that America would join the WTO. This successor to GATT (General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade) began operation on 1 January 1995 in Geneva and today has 148 member nations that collectively account for over 90% of global trade, employs 600, has a $133 M budget to which the U.S. contributes $26 M and offers a negotiating forum to settle disputes that is stronger than predecessors because it has enforcement capabilities, a feature the U.S. insisted be incorporated in the structure. Every five years, membership is reaffirmed, so in 2000, the House of Representatives voted 363 to 56 to stay the course. A renewal option will certainly pass again this year despite Congressional mistrust of any trade agreement that can cede regulatory powers to an international body, especially because WTO is now led since 1 June by a French Socialist, Pascal Lamay. But on balance, the WTO and predecessors have been a solid foundation for beneficial, economic governance in the trade domain. As recently retired U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said, "without WTO other countries could impose higher duties on American exports," and the U.S. "would not have the leverage to address trade barriers including tax policies, customs procedures, subsidies, dumping, and weak intellectual property protections." Yes, the WTO is the "Supreme Court of trade," according to Pat Buchannan, and therefore, we get both pleasing and unpleasing decisions from the WTO.