Sep 17 2008

Welker’s daily links 09/16/2008

Published by at 12:30 am under Daily Links

  • Is NAFTA really about free trade? Or “managed trade”?

    “The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is the quintessential managed-trade vehicle sold under the rubric of free trade. The first tip-off should be its size. While we earlier saw how 54 words in the U.S. Constitution established free trade among the states of the Union, NAFTA weighs in at over 2,000 pages, 900 of which are tariff rates. (Under true free trade, there is one tariff rate—0 percent.) The agreement does have trade-liberalizing features, to be sure. Consisting of a 10 percent reduction in tariffs to be phased in over 15 years, however, they are all but buried under the profusion of controls NAFTA also establishes.

    In the first place, the benefit from those tariff reductions are jeopardized by the agreement’s snap-back provisions. Those permit pre-NAFTA tariff levels to be restored against imported items which cause or threaten serious injury to domestic industry.[5] In other words, NAFTA supports free trade as long as it does not promote international competition which is too hot for favored domestic firms to handle. In addition, NAFTA’s rules of origin are designed to divert trade from the world’s most efficient suppliers to North America’s most efficient suppliers. This hobbles the international division of labor instead of expanding it, as true free trade does.

    The importance of NAFTA clauses that keep out foreign goods came to light as U.S. clothing manufacturers railed against the import of wool suits from our NAFTA partner Canada. The suits in question were made from third-country wool not covered by NAFTA rules of origin. Since Canadian tariffs on foreign wool were lower than U.S. tariffs (10 percent vs. 34 percent),[6] Canadian suits sold for less and soon claimed a large share of the U.S. market. The fact that the entire discussion of this issue centered on closing this loophole in NAFTA rather than on lowering the injurious U.S. tariff on wool should prove how devoted NAFTA’s supporters are to free trade.

    Free trade does not

    tags: economics, free trade, NAFTA


About the author:  Jason Welker teaches International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Economics at Zurich International School in Switzerland. In addition to publishing various online resources for economics students and teachers, Jason developed the online version of the Economics course for the IB and is has authored two Economics textbooks: Pearson Baccalaureate’s Economics for the IB Diploma and REA’s AP Macroeconomics Crash Course. Jason is a native of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and is a passionate adventurer, who considers himself a skier / mountain biker who teaches Economics in his free time. He and his wife keep a ski chalet in the mountains of Northern Idaho, which now that they live in the Swiss Alps gets far too little use. Read more posts by this author

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