Keeping An Eye On Free Trade

KEEPING AN EYE ON FREE TRADE....Is the free trade brigade truly worried about the prospect of a Democratic administration putting the screws on future trade deals? Henry Farrell thinks he's found a clever way of tracking just how worried they really are:
My claim is that the degree of rhetorical overkill in Jagdish Bhagwati's op-ed fulminations on trade is a very good indicator of what the free trade establishment actually thinks about the underlying risks or threats to the existing regime....I'll endeavour to test this hypothesis by keeping track of the Bhagwati Blood Pressure Index (or BBPI) over a period of time, and testing whether it maps well onto the expected outcomes.

....Bhagwati's piece in today's FT is a good place to start. Those unfamiliar with his writing style might think that language such as "faintly ludicrous," "denigration of freer trade," "witless fear of trade," and "disturbingly protectionist" indicates a BBPI that is alarmingly high, both for free trade and for Professor Bhagwati. Comparative analysis with previous op-eds and writings would suggest, however, that these criticisms are almost genial by historical standards; at worst they're love taps. By my reading, the BBPI has dropped quite significantly since mid 2007 or so, suggesting that the free trade establishment believes that the current fervor over free trade is froth that will mostly disappear after the primary season.
Actually, the fact that Obama and Clinton jacked up the anti-NAFTA rhetoric just in time for the Ohio primary and will almost certainly abandon it on Wednesday is all the evidence I think we need. It's likely that a Democratic president will, for a time at least, put new trade deals on the back burner while they work on other priorities, but I'd say there's virtually no chance that there will be any significant rollbacks in our current trade regime. In fact, in a Nixon-goes-to-China sense, it's entirely possible that a Democratic president will eventually be a boon for trade by adopting some modest reforms that gain the trust of liberals and allow more trade deals to pass the scrutiny of a skeptical Congress. Who knows? Cut the right deals on farm subsidies and intellectual property and maybe we could even get the Doha round rebooted.

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