Trade has been in the news a lot lately, whether because of the latest threats of tariffs or the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or other smaller, bilateral deals. All too often, trade among nations and trade agreements are written about as if expanding trade or locking in trade deals were ends in themselves. Trade is a topic that covers a broad range of issues that affect not only the goods and services we trade with other countries, but also the rules of the global economy. The rules in NAFTA or the World Trade Organization (WTO), or the latest trade deal emerging in the news are one set of rules that generally favor the largest corporations seeking to buy and sell goods as easily as possible. We could choose others, rules designed to promote fair and sustainable development.
But first, it helps to decode the terms used in trade agreements so more people can effectively engage in those debates. While there are a lot of moving parts, the components are not so difficult to explain.
Or so it seems to us at IATP. The basic concepts around trade and trade agreements have been around for decades, but old ideas are being interpreted in new ways and new ideas on what constitutes a trade barrier are emerging. There have been a lot of confusing or misleading statements about the tools used to regulate trade, so we decided to start a series of short factsheets on questions we often hear (or debate with friends) on some key issues in trade policy and trade agreements. The initial set includes:
We hope these articles are useful. Please send any comments to FAQtrade@iatp.org, and let us know if you have other ideas for questions we should explore. Trade can be an engine of growth, but trade policy can also create obstacles to better economic, social and environmental policies, including creative ideas emerging at the local level. Trade agreements lock in our choices on those rules for many years to come. We hope this series can contribute to an informed conversation about what those rules should be.