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The Trade Policy Equivalent Of “Man Bites Dog”

It isn’t every day when socialists express the fear that the world might become too protectionist:

Pascal Lamy, director general of the World Trade Organisation, has warned that the global financial crisis could lead to surges in protectionism as governments seek to blame foreigners for their problems.

“That is exactly what happened in the 1930s when it [protectionism] was the virus that spread the crisis all over the place,” he said in a video interview with the FT. “This is a risk.”

However, Mr Lamy said the good news was that the WTO’s 153 members had learned from history. They had entered into binding commitments not to go it alone even if they were finding it difficult to conclude the current Doha round of trade liberalisation talks.

“We are having a lot of trouble on trade round number nine. But we have concluded eight previous rounds in 60 years,” he said.

One hopes that Lamy–who really is a socialist but who has an uncommon (among socialists) appreciation of the benefits of free trade–is right when he says that we have learned from history. But when one looks at the campaign rhetoric from Team Obama on the issue of trade, one cannot help but wonder whether a refresher course is needed.

I should perhaps add that Lamy is a very close friend of World Bank President–and one of the Official Public Policy Heroes of Pejman Yousefzadeh–Robert Zoellick. Both Lamy and Zoellick are excellent on the issue of trade and both need help from the next American President to spread the benefits of trade liberalization.

They will get that help from John McCain. From Barack Obama? All signs point to “not so much.”

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