Summers Urges Fellow Democrats to Be Cautious on Curbing Free Trade

Posted March 8, 2007 at 3:40pm

As Democratic lawmakers talk tough about limiting presidential trade authority and even revisiting existing trade agreements, a key architect of past trade deals — Clinton administration Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers — cautioned lawmakers today against overreaching.

“The dislocation and insecurity people are experiencing that they’re blaming on trade agreements are, in fact, not the result of trade agreements,” Summers told the Senate Finance Committee today. “They are the result of inevitable changes,” including technology and globalization.

Summers, who was ousted as Harvard University president but remains an economist there, likened trying to solve those problems through trade as “trying to fix a flat tire by blowing it up through the place where it leaked.”

Summers’ remarks came as Congressional proponents of tighter trade regulations are touting the prospect of restricting the president’s ability to negotiate trade deals in the newly Democratic House and Senate. Some Democratic lawmakers blame trade deals for shipping tens of thousands of U.S. jobs overseas.

Yesterday, House and Senate lawmakers outlined plans to heighten Congressional oversight of trade agreements and hinted at a comprehensive trade bill that would radically alter existing U.S. trade policy. The proposal could include overhauling and curtailing presidential trade promotion authority, which enables the president to negotiate trade deals that Congress must either accept or reject without any changes. The proposal could also mandate greater Congressional oversight of current trade deals and add labor-backed provisions to future trade agreements.

The president’s trade promotion authority, which is granted by Congress and is often referred to as “fast track,” expires in July. The Bush administration has pushed for its renewal.

“This administration has little desire to change direction,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told reporters. “It’s up to us to chart a course.”

Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee on interstate commerce, trade and tourism, said he would hold hearings on trade policy.

“We have a trade strategy that is putting downward pressure on income in this country,” Dorgan said.

Meanwhile, Democrats have the backing of the AFL-CIO, the Teamsters and other unions who are now drafting labor-friendly guidelines for trade deals. Those guidelines would give Congress more input and would require countries to adopt certain labor protections before beginning trade negotiation with the United States.