On the one hand it’s encouraging that Kerry backed away from all the anti-outsourcing fist shaking. On the other hand, his call for “fair” trade is a rather predictable, often-used rhetorical tactic that allows politicians an ever-present escape route from free trade. Worried that unions or other political factions might get peeved if you support some new free trade agreement? Just look for some evidence of an uneven playing field. Then you can avoid taking the political heat and still say you like free trade in theory, but only when it’s also “fair.” Trouble is there’s almost always some evidence of unfairness to be found, especially if you let protectionists define what fair means. In a reminder that Bush is no free-trade candidate either, his administration just slapped import duties on foreign shrimpers, much to the delight of domestic shrimpers: The United States slapped import duties on Asian and Latin American shrimp, pleasing domestic shrimpers but prompting a warning that prices could rise and jobs could be lost. The anti-dumping duties will be imposed on frozen and canned warm water shrimp from Brazil, India, Ecuador and Thailand by the end of next week, the U.S. Commerce Department said in a preliminary ruling Thursday. Brazil’s foreign ministry said it would challenge the duties at the World Trade Organization. The Thai Frozen Food Association said it expected some impact on U.S. sales, but would not be seeking any action against Washington. The U.S. shrimp industry accused the four countries of selling pond-raised shrimp in the United States at below market prices. Foreign competitors deny this, saying they are more efficient than the Americans, who get shrimp from the sea. The department set duties of up to 112.8 percent on shrimp from Vietnam and China earlier in the month, as part of the same case filed by U.S. shrimp harvesters last year. And there’s that word again. “Today’s action…gives 70,000 Americans employed in the industry a better chance to compete fairly in the marketplace,” said Eddie Gordon, chairman of the Southern Shrimp Alliance.
Ted Balaker is an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and founding partner of Korchula Productions, a film and new media production company devoted to making important ideas entertaining.