It’s sad, really.
For most of the last century, the Democratic Party, as the most significant advocate of an internationalist perspective in American politics, understood that promoting international trade was a key aspect of being an internationally oriented world power that valued multilateral relations.
With its latest action on a proposed trade agreement with Colombia, however, it has confirmed its new role as an insular, xenophobic party with a knee-jerk suspicion of foreigners, responding to and reinforcing arrant ignorance about how the world works.
On Thursday the House of Representatives, prodded by majority leader Nancy Pelosi, changed the existing rules to delay, perhaps indefinitely, consideration of an agreement that was signed in 2006 and revised in 2007 in response to stated concerns of House Democrats.
Under the “fast track” authority under which the treaty was negotiated, the House was required to take up a trade treaty and vote it up or down, without amendments, within 60 days, giving the Senate another 30 days to do likewise. But the new rule gives the House Speaker complete discretion as to timing.
The hostility to this agreement makes no sense.
Some trade pacts raise a realistic fear that cheaper goods from foreign countries will flood the U.S., destroying or outsourcing the jobs of workers in competing U.S. industries.
But U.S. tariffs on imports from Colombia are already close to zero.
The effect of this agreement would be to reduce Colombian tariffs on U.S. goods. Increasing exports to Colombia would create jobs rather than destroy them.
Opponents also argue that Colombia isn’t doing enough to deter and punish the political murders of trade union leaders in Colombia. There’s no question such murders occur in that notoriously violent country, but they declined to 39 last year from a high of 275 in 1996, thanks in part to a concerted effort by the Colombian government.
Beyond partisan motives, then, hostility to this treaty suggests a deep-seated, visceral hostility to the very concept of trade itself. Since trade has proven to be the most effective way of lifting peoples and countries out of poverty, opposing more trade implies hostility to effective action to help people living in grinding poverty.