Re­store Amer­ica’s stand­ing through trade

Our al­lies will read a fail­ure to re­new this trade-pro­mo­tion author­ity as fur­ther ev­i­dence that we have lost in­ter­est in sus­tain­ing the in­ter­na­tional or­der.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - BY CON­DOLEEZZA RICE The writer was U.S. sec­re­tary of state from 2005 to 2009.

At the end of World War II, with the world still reel­ing from the dev­as­tat­ing con­flict, the United States set out to build a new foun­da­tion for peace and pros­per­ity. The three pil­lars of that strat­egy were Amer­i­can mil­i­tary strength, sup­port for the as­pi­ra­tions of free peo­ples and a be­lief that free mar­kets, bol­stered by free trade, would in­crease pros­per­ity for all.

That new in­ter­na­tional or­der was wildly suc­cess­ful in achiev­ing its goals. Af­ter five decades of sus­tained U.S. com­mit­ment, the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union col­lapsed, swelling the ranks of free peo­ples and more open economies, lift­ing mil­lions out of poverty and cre­at­ing new al­lies in the de­fense of free­dom.

To­day, that or­der is un­der strain. From the ex­pan­sion of the threat of Is­lamic ex­trem­ism, to Rus­sia’s chal­lenge to peace and sta­bil­ity in Europe, to Iran’s desta­bi­liz­ing in­flu­ence in the Mid­dle East, the chal­lenges are mul­ti­ply­ing.

Then there is the im­pact of a ris­ing China, cre­at­ing risks of a dif­fer­ent kind in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion and be­yond. A grow­ing Chi­nese econ­omy built on open­ness and fair­ness would most as­suredly strengthen the world econ­omy and, by ex­ten­sion, the U.S. econ­omy. That was the hope that an­i­mated the de­ci­sion to ad­mit China to the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion in 2001, em­bed­ding it in the rule-based global econ­omy and push­ing it to­ward greater eco­nomic open­ness.

Yet, that hope is clouded to­day by China’s as­sertive­ness in Asia. Our al­lies, de­spite grow­ing eco­nomic in­ter­de­pen­dence in the re­gion, look ner­vously at the growth of Bei­jing’s mil­i­tary power and ac­tiv­ity. From Tokyo to Manila, our friends anx­iously await sig­nals that the United States in­tends to re­main the dom­i­nant force in the Asia-Pa­cific.

Un­for­tu­nately, ques­tions about Amer­ica’s com­mit­ment to sus­tain­ing the very global sys­tem we helped cre­ate are fre­quent and grow­ing. The word “dis­en­gage­ment” is more of­ten used to­day when dis­cussing the United States’ role in the world than at any time in re­cent mem­ory. It is in that con­text that Pres­i­dent Obama’s re­quest for tradepro­mo­tion author­ity and his de­sire to ne­go­ti­ate new agree­ments in Asia and Europe should be un­der­stood.

Trade-pro­mo­tion author­ity is a crit­i­cal tool in the con­duct of U.S. diplo­macy. It does not strip Congress of a role in ne­go­ti­at­ing trade agree­ments. It ex­plic­itly al­lows Congress to out­line prin­ci­ples that must be heeded dur­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions and to ex­er­cise its con­sti­tu­tional du­ties by vot­ing on ne­go­ti­ated agree­ments. Congress has used that author­ity to shape the di­rec­tion of trade agree­ments over decades — and with­out it those agree­ments would not have been pos­si­ble. Our ne­go­ti­at­ing part­ners will not sign trade agree­ments with the United States if those agree­ments will, af­ter the fact, be sub­ject to line-by-line amend­ment dur­ing rat­i­fi­ca­tion.

This is not a mat­ter of trust­ing the in­hab­i­tant of the White House, who­ever that may be. For 40 years, tradepro­mo­tion author­ity (also called fast­track author­ity) has ef­fec­tively bal­anced the role of the ex­ec­u­tive and leg­isla­tive branches. When it has lapsed (1995 to 2001 and 2007 to the present), the United States has had to sit on the side­lines. In those pe­ri­ods, more than 100 re­gional trade agree­ments were ne­go­ti­ated with­out us. We can­not af­ford to have that con­tinue — es­pe­cially now.

The post-WWII lead­ers who bril­liantly de­signed an in­ter­na­tional or­der to sup­port free mar­kets un­der­stood that ei­ther we would write the rules of the game or some­one else would. They were haunted by the pro­tec­tion­ism of the 1930s that wors­ened the Great De­pres­sion and ar­guably con­trib­uted to World War II. They be­lieved that free trade was an es­sen­tial pil­lar of eco­nomic lib­erty, pros­per­ity and peace.

They were right then, and the same is true to­day. The United States needs an ac­tive trade agenda to strengthen its own econ­omy within the con­text of in­ter­na­tional eco­nomic growth.

That is an im­por­tant out­come in its own right, given con­tin­u­ing con­cerns about the health of the U.S. econ­omy. But the larger is­sue is what tradepro­mo­tion author­ity says about Amer­ica’s role in the world. Our al­lies will read a fail­ure to re­new this author­ity as fur­ther ev­i­dence that we have lost in­ter­est in sus­tain­ing the in­ter­na­tional or­der. They al­ready worry that oth­ers, China in par­tic­u­lar, stand ready to fill the vac­uum.

Free trade is no sub­sti­tute for mil­i­tary strength or for giv­ing voice to those who still seek lib­erty. Trade-pro­mo­tion author­ity and new trade agree­ments will not alone solve the global chal­lenges that we face. Yet trade is an es­sen­tial el­e­ment of a strat­egy that long ago placed faith in the propo­si­tion that the fu­ture would be­long to free peo­ples and free mar­kets. That is why I urge Congress to re­new trade-pro­mo­tion author­ity. The United States can­not af­ford to be side­lined, ced­ing the ground to those who do not share our val­ues and our in­ter­ests. Fu­ture gen­er­a­tions would pay dearly for that choice.

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