Trade War Fears

This past week the Bush administration pressed the WTO (World Trade Organization) to delay landmark sessions that could levy over $2.2 billion dollars in fines from the European Union (EU) over the United States’ protectionist steel tariffs.

EU spokesperson Fabian Delcros said last Friday that, “If the delay allows the United States time to withdraw the protectionist measures, that is better for everybody.” Bush seems to be feeling the same way; by abiding to the WTO’s demands, the US can avoid the harsh fines, and avert a potential “Trade War” with Asia and the EU. But the White House claims it is only buying time to review the logistics, not offset any penalties. However, the rescheduling of the meetings is a strong indication the US will surely cave to the WTO’s whims. And White House insiders are saying Bush will announce this Friday that he’ll be ending the tarrifs in the near future.

Certainly this could be the next tier of the new Global Economy; where industrialized nations are forced to relinquish sovereignty to the global proprietors and policy institutions like the WTO and the IMF (International Monetary Fund). And it will also serve as the death certificate to the already ailing US steel producing industry.

Cheap steel imports and the drop in global prices, have all but eliminated the industry that historically helped build this nation. In the end the short-term tariffs will have only amounted to a failing life-support system–where the prolonged existence of the sector was doomed to crash under the auspices of the free-market way. So is Bush committing political suicide by alienating the working class and labor communities? Perhaps not.

Altough Bush may be back-stabbing a staunch supporter like US Steelworkers CEO, Thomas Usher (who is hosting a fund-raiser for Bush this week)– Karl Rove has obviously informed Bush that the blue-collar jobs that are going to be eviscerated from the tariff lifting, will only increase GOP support from the growing white-collar steel import and consuming sectors. At least that’s how Rove sees it.

States like Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania have lost thousands of steel jobs since the onset of the Clinton economic era. Consequently, the Democrats are unlikely to denounce Bush’s decision to bow to the WTO and the European Union. How could they without apologizing themselves? They have wholeheartedly supported the WTO, along with the free-trade agreements that now dictate the flow of global goods and capital. This is certainly a clear indication that not only have Republicans failed to protect US jobs, but so have the Democrats. During the 2000 campaign, Bush promised to impose the tariffs on steel, which gained him great apeal in these states. So we can only hope Karl Rove is wrong, and there is a backlash to Bush’s actions.

But those folks left with unemployment checks and food stamps in rural Ohio and elsewhere will have a difficult time replacing the very politicians that cost them their livelihoods. Talk about lack of democratic choice.

And the loss of steel producing jobs will only be the start. Japan, our close economic ally, is already at the blackboard chalking up plans on how they can challenge other US market barriers and environmental statutes through the WTO, such as our (although weak) protectionist coal and textile levies. Japan is not alone either; China, South Korea, and Switzerland are also planning their moves to open up more markets in the US. It’s not a good sign for an economy for the United States’ weak labor market.

Sure the US may be able to backdoor the United Nations and attack Iraq, but the EU is proving it has power through the World Trade Organization over how the US conducts its trade affairs. And the fallout of domestic jobs due to their heavy handed control could be catastrophic.

What this means is simple: America is finally feeling the wrath of neoliberalism run amuck-Goliath endures his first stone. And the suit coats, as always, will survive and pay to help put Bush back in DC next year.

However, they’ll be putting money behind Bush’s opponent just the same. And neither Party will truly be willing to pull out of the WTO or admit it ruins lives and undermines our nation’s sovereignty.

But perhaps these massive layoffs will wake regular Americans from their hibratory slumber; where they’re still dreaming that free-markets are the wave of future fortunes, and lasting job security.

And maybe they’ll stop seeing protestors in the street outside global trade cabals, as naïve idealistic youth-but instead as patriots, intent on raising global standards of living, while improving our own here in the United States. The only way these closed door events will be disrupted is if we, as concerned citizens, continue to voice our dissent.

This struggle is its infancy. The US will again fall victim to “Trade War” fears, and the threat of monetary fines for protecting jobs or the environment. However, the free-trade policies our government has supported with a non-partisan stamp of approval are the real culprit.

And when this happens, it will only mean that we have to continue onward, and show the world that the US is also not immune from the neoliberal virus that is infecting this world. Only then will politicians begin to hear our pleas.

JOSH FRANK is a writer living in New York. He can be reached at: frank_joshua@hotmail.com


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JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair and published by AK Press. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can troll him on Twitter @joshua__frank

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