And Doha too

Over the past few days the Obama Administration has begun a new effort to re-engage on what is the most important subject for the American people today, the economy.  This is a welcome development from where we sit, and have been pleased at both the language and proposals coming from the White House.  As the President gears up for a sustained discussion on the economy, two issues will need to be woven into his evolving narrative - the role of both immigration and global trade flows in creating broad-based prosperity here at home and a more prosperous and safer world aboard.

We've written extensively on how immigration reform should be better woven into the core Obama economic argument (see here for a recent video presentation of our argument).  The NYTimes this weekend did a very good job at reminding us of the opportunity the nearly completed Doha trade round offers the President to reassert America's role as the main advocate for a global economic liberalization, and why it also matters to American workers here at home.  A quick excerpt:

There are few things that could do more damage to the already battered global economy than an old-fashioned trade war. So we have been increasingly worried by the protectionist rhetoric and policies being espoused by politicians across the globe and in this country.

Against this bleak backdrop, it is especially good news that the world’s leading developed and developing nations have committed to complete a stalled global trade agreement (the so-called Doha Round) by next year. For that to happen, leaders — especially in the United States, Europe, India, China and Brazil — are going to have to muster real sense and political courage.

The World Trade Organization forecasts that exports from developed countries will fall 14 percent this year, while exports from developing nations will contract 7 percent. The collapse is particularly damaging for poor countries that are heavily dependent on exports. But it is also intensifying the downturn in many rich countries. Reviving trade is essential for economic recovery.

The talks, begun in Doha, Qatar, in 2001, had long been in limbo. They broke down last year after big developing countries — China and India, in particular — rejected demands from the wealthy nations that they lower tariffs on imports of agricultural and manufactured goods and open service sectors to more competition.

But there are signs that the collapse in trade and the rising protectionist rhetoric have awoken many leaders to the advantages of strong international rules to keep trade channels open. This is particularly true of China, which has suddenly found its exports on the receiving end of tariff increases and antidumping suits.

There is no guarantee that a deal can be pulled off. President Obama will have to provide lots of leadership to convince developing countries to make serious offers on market access, and to convince reluctant members of the United States Congress — notably those within his own party — that they will have to make concessions, too.