Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Brazil to retaliate

Here's an issue that you won't likely hear Obama or McCain talking about, though they should: Brazil is tired of U.S. subsidies and so is soon to retaliate. The collapse of the Doha round meant that no deals had been reached on cotton, ethanol, and other agricultural goods.

The essential problem, of course, is hypocrisy. On the one hand, the U.S. wants Latin American (and other) countries to open up their economies, especially with free trade agreements. We hear platitudes about a bit of short-term pain for long-term benefit. Comparative advantage, efficiency, and all that good stuff. But the U.S. government refuses to accept the same rules for itself. This is damaging U.S.-Latin American relations, but especially with Brazil because it is an agricultural powerhouse and wants the U.S. to follow the same rules it does. Brazil's foreign minister was quite clear:

But they are the biggest subsidisers in the world in terms of what affects us, so we will have to see them in court.

The U.S. needs to decide. If you want free trade abroad, then you need to accept it at home. If you want to protect domestic industries you feel are important, then you need to allow other countries to do the same without bullying them.


Anonymous,  9:20 AM  

Off topic, but I was struck by your last sentence in that post. Without bullying them? Arm twisting is how international politics works, is it not? Every country looks for leverage and it almost always comes down to some form of bullying. Like, for example, taking a country to court to compel them to change their policies.

Greg Weeks 9:25 AM  

If I take you to court for failing to follow rules, that is not bullying.

If I say that you will be punished unless you do what I want, that is bullying.

Yes, every country seeks leverage, but there is a severe imbalance of power. Offhand, I can't think of an example of a Latin American country bullying the U.S.

Anonymous,  1:30 PM  

Good distinction. I can't think of a Latin American-US bullying example either but that's because of the imbalance of power you mention. I'm sure, should the tables be turned, there would be much bullying of the US.

Still, though unsavory and unsporting, I don't see anything wrong with "bullying" in the international arena. Too bad for those countries on the lower-end of the imbalance, but there's no rule against "bullying." International politics, much more so than domestic, is not for the weak-hearted and thin-skinned.

Justin Delacour 2:25 PM  

Still, though unsavory and unsporting, I don't see anything wrong with "bullying" in the international arena.

Then neither should you see anything wrong with weaker states building counter-balancing alliances against the United States so as to counteract its bullying.

If building leverage is good for the goose, it's also good for the gander.

Greg Weeks 2:43 PM  

Of course, there are no "rules" about bullying. From a strictly strategic point of view, though, in recent years U.S. pressures on weaker countries in L.A. have often been counterproductive. It is easy to push around weak countries, but it can also blow up in your face.

Anonymous,  4:36 PM  

Justin: I don't see anything wrong with weaker states building alliances against stronger states. I also don’t see anything wrong with stronger states trying to break up opposing alliances. Balance of power seems to me to be the natural state of things. Like I said, every country looks for leverage.

Greg: I suppose diplomatic tactics should be suited for particular situations. Bullying may work with some countries and not with others. One would think that there’s some level of risk analysis done before deciding on the carrot, stick, or combination thereof. But to get to your specific point: Part of the problem, I think, is that there is a distinct lack of strategic thinking in US policy towards the region. Strategically and for practical reasons, the US doesn’t seem to think about Latin America as a region or even as sub-regions (with some exception in the case of Central America), just a collection of individual states as if they had nothing to do with one another. So, there’s a butt-load of bilateral treaties and poliy relationships but a dearth of multi-lateral or regional treaties and relationships. This bilateral-centric approach lends itself to bullying. So, I would agree that bullying may not be as productive or sustainable as other more collaborative approaches, but that could also be not so much due to the tactic of bullying but because the policy suffers from a lack of strategic vision or goals, which results in improvisations that may, as you say, blow in your face.

The problem with my theory is that the expectation for multilateralism is almost as pie-in-the-sky as the expectation to not bully.

Greg Weeks 5:23 PM  

Hmm, we need an analysis of visionary multilateral bullying, if such a thing can exist.

However, we haven't raised the issue of ethics. More specifically, whether proclaiming the merits of free trade while openly violating its main tenets is a problem.

Anonymous,  5:33 PM  

Greg, I hope you are dishing out blame on both sides of the aisle. The Democrats are clearly not immune to criticism on this issue. Nancy Pelosi's middle name is "protectionist".

Greg Weeks 6:04 PM  

This post is about consistency. Who says one thing and does another?

Anonymous,  6:19 PM  

However, we haven't raised the issue of ethics. More specifically, whether proclaiming the merits of free trade while openly violating its main tenets is a problem.

Yes. There does seem to be some peculiarities there. But is it really a problem? I don't know. Is it really a problem? I would suppose that it is very problematic for free-traders because it impedes their vision of what the world economic system should look like. But is it a foreign policy problem? I don't know. Doha collapsed because of protectionism, but so what? How problematic is that? Is it going to result in some type of crisis? You pose a good question and I don't know. I'll have to cogitate on that, but I would think the larger problem is slightly different than how you framed it: proclaiming the merits of free trade without recognizing its draw backs.

Justin Delacour 6:56 PM  

Doha collapsed because of protectionism, but so what?

My sentiments as well.

No deal is better than a shitty deal.

Justin Delacour 6:57 PM  
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