BBC Link on "US plans tariff-free world".
I saw this, and I have to say that it's an admirable goal. Tariffs and artificial restrictions on movement on goods are so pointless (with perhaps the exception of quarantine). These restrictions are based on nothing more than arbitrary lines drawn on a map, left over from colonialism or religious conflicts so old their citizens have forgotten why they ever took place.
Technology is bringing the world closer together, and for the better IMO. Trade is just an extension of this. What logical reason should there be for taxing something just because it came from overseas? Products and services should compete on an equal footing - no propping up old and dying industries with tax dollars for short term votes.
There are, however, sensible arguments against free trade on the basis of humanitarian and environmental grounds. The environmental grounds are probably the most important, as I see it. Forests and animals and waterways don't vote, but they're all vital to the planet and our existence on it.
On the other hand, whilst in the short term free trade may lead to the (very regrettable) exploitation of people in less developed countries, by what other means are their standards of living going to increase? "Hand outs" may work in the short term, but start to do that long term and you build not only a corrupt state, but a social welfare state. You turn the country into a basket case (Africa, anyone?). Free trade enables countries to start at the bottom of the industrial tree, exploiting the only resource they have - cheap labour - and by gaining the benefits of , work their way up.
This is what I think the WTO protestors (the ones that are out there for moral reasons as opposed to the antiquated unions that are just trying to prop up dying industries) fail to realise. Whilst it may not appear to be so, free trade is in the interest of these countries. How else are they going to get on their feet?
That being said, there is one caveat, and an important one. From the article:
Poorer countries are also pressing for access to rich country markets for their agricultural products, but these are not included in the proposals.
The US, however, has already proposed the elimination of agricultural subsidies - a proposal certain to be opposed by the European Union and Japan.
This really pisses me off. Not only are efficient (and often, poorer) countries losing in trade because of the political clout of these agricultural industries being subsidised (I think it's fair to say that almost all of the ag industries in the US, EU and Japan receive more in subsidies than they actually make themselves), but the citizens within these countries pay more for food.
The way the EU in particular has dealt with this matter just goes to show what happens to their politically "angelic self-righteousness" when their own interests are threatened. Least the US is up front about such things - the EU's behaviour is, to me, sickeningly hypocritical.
This post has been a bit stream-of-consciousness, but I feel pretty strongly about the subject and wanted to put something down on it.