– Kevin P. Gallagher is professor of international relations at Boston University and co-author of “The Enclave Economy: Foreign Investment and Sustainable Development in Mexico’s Silicon Valley” and “Putting Development First: The Importance of Policy Space at the WTO.” The opinions expressed are his own. –
On the campaign trail, President-elect Barack Obama pledged to rethink U.S. trade policy. The initial nomination of Xavier Becerra as United States Trade Representative was a signal that Obama will work to fulfill that promise. Congressman Becerra declined the offer and former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk has been chosen to head the office instead. Given Kirk’s enthusiastic support for NAFTA, he will receive close scrutiny as he takes over a USTR that has the mandate of rethinking U.S. trade policy.
Regardless of the messenger, Obama has pledged to fundamentally change U.S. trade policy. To this end, there are four early priorities for Kirk and Obama: honor existing commitments under the WTO, press for an equitable completion of the Doha Round, conduct a thorough evaluation of major U.S. trade agreements, and enact comprehensive trade adjustment assistance legislation.
The immediate first step is to honor the WTO ruling that deemed that the $3.2 billion in annual cotton subsidies and $1.6 billion in export credits violate trade rules. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy estimates that U.S. cotton subsidies caused damages of $400 million between 2001 and 2003 alone for poor African cotton-producing countries, where more than 10 million people depend directly on the crop.
Returning to multilateralism by honoring the cotton ruling would not only aid poor farmers but would also allow the U.S. to regain legitimacy at the WTO by sending signal to developing countries that the U.S. no longer preaches a global trade policy of “do as we say, not as we do”.