Free Trade

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Ron Paul is a proponent of free trade and rejects protectionism, advocating “conducting open trade, travel, communication, and diplomacy with other nations.” He opposes many free trade agreements (FTAs), like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), stating that “free-trade agreements are really managed trade” and serve special interests and big business, not citizens.

He voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), holding that it increased the size of government, eroded U.S. sovereignty, and was unconstitutional. He has also voted against the Australia–U.S. FTA, the U.S.–Singapore FTA, and the U.S.–Chile FTA, and voted to withdraw from the WTO. He believes that “fast track” powers, given by Congress to the President to devise and negotiate FTAs on the country’s behalf, are unconstitutional, and that Congress, rather than the executive branch, should construct FTAs.

Buy American, Unless… (February 12, 2001)
Members of Congress often encourage us to “buy American” during their speeches on the House floor. Some members regularly place a “buy American” clause in various trade-related bills, seeking to protect domestic jobs by encouraging the purchase of American goods. Ironically, however, many of these same legislators vote to prohibit American companies from gaining access to new markets overseas. They do so by supporting our senseless embargo policies, which simply help our foreign trading competitors at the expense of American companies.

Of course most politicians claim that they support free trade. Intuitively, most Americans understand that access to foreign markets provides significant benefits to US citizens and American-based corporations. However, we continue to pursue a policy of denying or restricting domestic companies from selling to Cuba, Iraq, Iran, China, and other countries. This inconsistency is especially evident when we consider “export financing,” which really is foreign aid designed to help other countries buy American goods. Most Washington politicians support the practice of export financing, arguing that access to foreign markets benefits American companies, and not just foreign consumers. However, the opposite argument is made with regard to our embargo policies. Suddenly, increased trade with countries some want to label as unworthy only benefits sinister foreign consumers, and not domestic producers. This nonsensical position is maintained by many in government who favor government-managed trade which benefits certain chosen special interests.

Conflicting and inconsistent views on trade policy result largely from a lack of understanding of basic economic principles. Free trade is not a zero-sum game where some countries benefit and others inevitably suffer. On the contrary, true free trade by definition benefits both parties. Free trade is the process of free people engaging in market activity without government interference such as tariffs or managed-trade agreements. In a true free market, individuals and companies do business voluntarily, which means they believe they will be better off as a result of a transaction. Tariffs, taxes, and duties upset the balance, because governments add costs to the calculation which make doing business less attractive. Similarly, so-called managed trade agreements like WTO favor certain business interests and trading nations over others, which reduces the mutual benefit inherent in true free trade.

Free Trade With All, Entangling Alliances With None (September 21, 2001)
Free trade with all and entangling alliances with none has always been the best policy in dealing with other countries on the world stage. This is the policy of friendship, freedom and non-interventionism and yet people wrongly attack this philosophy as isolationist. Nothing could be further from the truth. Isolationism is putting up protectionist trade barriers, starting trade wars imposing provocative sanctions and one day finding out we have no one left to buy our products. Isolationism is arming both sides of a conflict, only to discover that you’ve made two enemies instead of keeping two friends. Isolationism is trying to police the world but creating more resentment than gratitude. Isolationism is not understanding economics, or other cultures, but clumsily intervening anyway and creating major disasters out of minor problems.

Free trade makes sense (June 7, 1999)
[...] if someone says they are for “free trade,” one must look carefully what they really mean, for the classic (and common sense) definition does not apply.

All to often in Washington, free trade is used when one really means “subsidized trade,” or, tax dollars being funneled to foreign governments to buy American products. Similarly, the phrase can mean to use tax dollars to bail-out American firms for risky overseas ventures, or managed trade by the World Trade Organization to serve powerful special interests.

On the other hand, those of us who oppose using the taxes of American citizens to prop-up foreign governments or American corporations are derisively called “isolationists.” There are indeed some people who are isolationists. They call themselves “fair traders,” though. Exactly what this means is open to debate. All too often it involves letting the government determine what is and is not “fair” in the private trading between individuals who live in different countries.

Sadly, these definitions all hinge on the assumption that there are essentially only two options: tax dollars being used to subsidize corporations/foreign governments, or no trade whatsoever without the rubber stamp of government bureaucrats and special interest groups.

The bottom-line of both options, of course, is higher taxes for Americans. Higher taxes to finance the subsidies, or higher taxes on incoming products (and make no mistake, a tariff is a tax, paid by the American consumer).

There is another way. Free trade and free markets are, without a doubt, the best guarantor of peace. But this requires something all too few in Washington want: less government intervention.

It is indisputable that individuals know better how to provide for their families than government. It is also indisputable that a company is better equipped to know what its market will tolerate than a bureaucrat in Washington. In this way, a person is able to determine what goods best meet their individual needs, weighing numerous factors in their decision. But when government intervenes, it no longer becomes possible for an individual to provide for their family and business in the most expedient fashion. This is the antithesis of liberty.

The World Trade Organization (March 20, 2000)
The economic argument for free trade should be no more complex than the moral argument. Tariffs are taxes that penalize those who buy foreign goods. If taxes are low on imported goods, consumers benefit by being able to buy at the best price, thus saving money to buy additional goods and raise their standard of living. The competition stimulates domestic efforts and hopefully serves as an incentive to get onerous taxes and regulations reduced.

If one truly believes in free trade, one never argues a need for reciprocity or bureaucratic management of trade. If free trade is truly beneficial, as so many claim, unilateral free trade is an end in itself and requires neither treaties nor international management by politicians and bureaucrats. A country should promote free trade in its own self-interest — never for the benefit of someone else.

Those not completely convinced of the benefits of free trade acknowledge a “cost” of lower tariffs for which they demand compensation and fair management. Thus, we have the creation of the WTO. By endorsing the concept of managed world trade through the World Trade Organization, proponents acknowledge that they actually believe in order for free trade to be an economic positive, it requires compensation or a “deal.”

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