The end is near (sigh) again

In the decade-long, tens-of-billions-of-dollars effort to sell the world on a global free trade deal, several things did not happen.

Didn’t come close. First, a global trade deal didn’t happen; in fact, it never came close to happening.

Second, contrary to predictions, world trade did not end even though multilateral talks did. Indeed, worldwide merchandise trade, according to the World Trade Organization, soared from $6.2 trillion in 2001 to $15.2 trillion in 2010.

Third, the Big Hens of global free trade did not stop their endless cluck, cluck clucking over the dire need to do more trade deals.

The latest cluck-fest maintains that unless the White House sends pending trade deals with Panama, Columbia and South Korea to Capitol Hill and Congress doesn’t pass ’em 10 minutes thereafter, civilization as we know it — well, at least our access to cheap shoes and exploding watermelons from you know who — will cease to exist.

As it did in 2005.

No ending

OK, the world didn’t end in 2005 and that’s the point; it was supposed to if the WTO’s Doha Development Round failed. Well, it failed and pretty spectacularly and the world still spins and global trade continues and it continues to grow.

Go figure

That massive multilateral setback has not derailed bilateral deals like those between the U.S. and South Korea, Panama and Columbia. After each was rebalanced by the Obama White House to include new labor and environmental standards, everyone in Washington D.C. seemed ready to get back on the free trade train.

Just one glitch: Before the three deals take the short ride to Capitol Hill the Administration wants Congress to appropriate $7.2 billion over the next decade to retrain U.S. workers displaced by these deals and others. House Republicans oppose the extra spending thus any deal on any of these deals is at a standstill.

(That will come in handy as a spring of political finger-pointing turns into a summer of chest-thumping and, later, a fall of pre-election preening.)

Standstill?

Big Ag is never at a standstill, though. The agbiz giants, as well as the American Farm Bureau, the American Soybean Association, National Corn Growers, National Cattlemen’s and National Wheat Growers, are bending ears and twisting arms to get the three trade pacts on the Hill’s summer docket.

The aggies strongest supporting evidence to favor the deals are an estimated 22,500 new American jobs and a $2.3 billion boost to U.S. ag exports.

While neither is nothing to sneeze at, each, however, can easily be contained by a small handkerchief. For example, a $2.3 billion increase in fiscal 2011 U.S. ag exports would bump up the current forecast total of $135. 5 billion by 1.6 percent.

Job creation

Likewise, while the White House and every Dem running for re-election would love to see 22,500 jobs created in the coming year, it’s difficult to find any economist — even within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, whose data these projections rely on — who views that number as anything other than debatable.

In fact, both numbers are based on full implementation of all three agreements five, 10, 15 and even 20 years from now. So talk of $2.3 billion of this or 22,500 jobs in that is just more empty clucking from the free trade hens.

Moreover, the aggie numbers show only the export side — the good-bye side — of the three deals. What about the hello — import — side; will more food imports flow into the U.S. from Panama, South Korea and Columbia to displace American cattlemen, rice producers and vegetable growers? After all, net trade, not more trade, is the bottom line.

Then again, if these deals don’t go through the world will end.

Hey, it could happen.

About the Author

Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com More Stories by Alan Guebert

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