Thursday, December 18, 2008

Who Says IPE Is Boring?

. Thursday, December 18, 2008

Brawls broke out in the South Korean legislature over a proposed U.S./S. Korea trade pact:

Scuffles broke out as dozens of opposition members and their aides attempted to push their way into the office. TV footage showed people from both sides shoving, pushing and shouting in a crowded hall at the National Assembly building amid a barrage of flashing cameras.

Opponents later used a sledgehammer and other construction tools to tear open the room's wooden doors, only to find barricades of furniture set up inside as a second line of defense.

Opponents counter that it will cause pain to key sectors in both nations — agriculture in South Korea and automobiles in the United States.

Note that this "free trade" deal is causing a lot of controversy primarily because tariffs aren't the only trade-distorting regulations in the two countries. The opposition party in S. Korea is (justifiably) worried that U.S. subsidies to American farmers will make S. Korean farmers unable to compete if their protections are discarded. They may be right: U.S. agricultural policy is a tragicomedy of perverse incentives, corporate welfare, and inefficiencies. American and European agricultural policies are also killing the agricultural sectors of developing countries, and this has lead to the near-abandonment of the Doha round of WTO negotiations.

America is poised to lose much of its automobile industry anyway; the only question seems to be whether we let it happen now or in a few years when the pill may be easier to swallow. So, without having studied it in depth, this deal looks great for Americans; less good for S. Koreans. Still, I tend to believe than in normal circumstances any reduction in trade barriers will bring a net gain to society, so I'd like to see this pact pass. But it's another reminder that not all "free trade" is truly free.

My hope? Deals like this will eventually force the U.S. and E.U. to abandon their own agricultural subsidies and open their markets to exports from the developing world. This would be helpful on so many levels: it could provide good jobs and strong industries to the countries that need them the most (esp. in Africa and S. America), it could eliminate a great source of waste and inefficiency in American and Europe, it could further the passage of Doha, and give the West more credibility when it talks about markets and liberty to the rest of the world.

Will that happen? I doubt it. But that's what I'd like to see.

UPDATE: Dr. Oatley posted a short video in October that highlights some of relevant points about the politics of farm subsidies. It is here


Anonymous said...

Wow! people out on the street, holding signs, shouting and setting fires... FOR free trade? This world is slowly becoming a better place.

Who Says IPE Is Boring?




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