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After a longer-than expected settling in period, the Obama administration is finally moving on trade policy. What is unclear - and the early signs are troubling - is whether U.S. policy will also encompass the president's promise to use trade as a tool of development.
The administration’s preference for bilateral and regional trade agreements risks undermining the global system of trade rules that provides at least some protection for the interests of smaller, poor countries. But an enforceable, rules based system is in the interests of both developing countries and the United States, even if it is slower and more cumbersome than some would wish.
Representatives from the 12 countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement are in Hawaii this week trying to close the deal. US negotiators are insisting that Canada must reform its supply management system for dairy and allow more imports, while conceding that maybe the United States could let in just a wee bit more foreign sugar, as long as it doesn’t disrupt the US supply management program for sugar! Being a big, powerful country is great. But if you’re a small country, and particularly a relatively poor one, trade negotiations are trickier. And if you are a poor country outside the negotiations, you have no say at all on how the negotiations will affect your interests.