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Taking Trade to the Streets

The Lost History of Public Efforts to Shape Globalization

Susan Ariel Aaronson

Publication Year: 2001

In the wake of civil protest in Seattle during the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting, many issues raised by globalization and increasingly free trade have been in the forefront of the news. But these issues are not necessarily new. Taking Trade to the Streets describes how so many individuals and nongovernmental organizations came over time to see trade agreements as threatening national systems of social and environmental regulations. Using the United States as a case study, Susan Ariel Aaronson examines the history of trade agreement critics, focusing particular attention on NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, Mexico, and the United States) and the Tokyo and Uruguay Rounds of trade liberalization under the GATT. She also considers the question of whether such trade agreement critics are truly protectionist. The book explores how trade agreement critics built a fluid global movement to redefine the terms of trade agreements (the international system of rules governing trade) and to redefine how citizens talk about trade. (The "terms of trade" is a relationship between the prices of exports and of imports.) That movement, which has been growing since the 1980s, transcends borders as well as longstanding views about the role of government in the economy. While many trade agreement critics on the left say they want government policies to make markets more equitable, they find themselves allied with activists on the right who want to reduce the role of government in the economy. Aaronson highlights three hot-button social issues--food safety, the environment, and labor standards--to illustrate how conflicts arise between trade and other types of regulation. And finally she calls for a careful evaluation of the terms of trade from which an honest debate over regulating the global economy might emerge. Ultimately, this book links the history of trade policy to the history of social regulation. It is a social, political, and economic history that will be of interest to policymakers and students of history, economics, political science, government, trade, sociology, and international affairs. Susan Ariel Aaronson is Senior Fellow at the National Policy Institute and occasional commentator on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition."

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii-ix

One of the ironies surrounding most contemporary policy debates is the reportage seems to concentrate more on personalities and tactics than on the substance of the issue. Consequently, the effects of any policy shifts increasingly seem to come as a surprise to the general public, and, when noticed, are too often viewed as isolated events rather than as part of larger structural change.

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pp. xi-xii

For two-thirds of a century now, the United States has pursued a policy of reducing barriers to international trade. In the FDR years, we did so by negotiating bilateral deals with our principal trading partners. With the signing of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in the late 1940s, the means shifted to multilateral negotiations—first primarily with Europeans, but increasingly with nations around the globe.

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pp. xiii-xvi

At first glance, the December 16, 1773, meeting in Old South Church in Boston and the November 26, 1999, teach-in in Seattle’s Benaroya Symphony Hall have little in common. More than five thousand colonists, about a third of Boston’s population, crowded into Old South Church. About half that number crowded into the twenty-five-hundred-seat Symphony Hall. The participants at both meetings focused on trade.


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pp. xvii


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pp. xix

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Chapter 1: How Trade Agreement Critics Redefined the Terms of Trade

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pp. 1-29

On November 30, 1999, some five thousand delegates from more than 135 nations traveled to Seattle, Washington. They met to discuss whether or not to launch a new round of trade talks under the aegis of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Despite the many pleasures of Seattle, most of the delegates did not enjoy their stay. The official talks were eclipsed by a week of street protests and sporadic violence, as vandals smashed the storefront windows of Nike, Starbucks, and McDonald’s.1

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Chapter 2: Same Agruments, Different Context: A Brief History of Protectionism from 1789 to the 1960s

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pp. 30-57

When Benjamin Franklin wrote that “in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes,” he was referring to tariffs.1 Tariffs— duties applied at the border—were America’s main tool for regulating trade. However, when Americans talked about tariffs, they weren’t only talking about a tool to restrict trade. They were talking about a device that could nurture the new nation’s economic growth as well as finance the U.S. government. Moreover, when Americans talked tariffs, they also were discussing the implications of government intervention in the economy.

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Chapter 3: How the GATT Came to Intersect with the Regulatory Social Compact

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pp. 58-84

In 1965, attorney Ralph Nader loaded a slingshot and lobbed at General Motors, one of the world’s largest corporations. In a grim, fact-laden book, Unsafe at Any Speed, Nader criticized the design, production, and marketing of an unsafe car, the Corvair.1 With this volley, Nader helped modernize America’s approach to social regulation, calling for government regulation of business as well as public monitoring of such regulation. Nader became a liberal icon, devoting “his life to defending the American public against corporate negligence and government indifference.”2

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Chapter 4: Back to "America First" : Deregulation, Economic Nationalism, and New Rationales for Protection

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pp. 85-109

From 1945 to 1979, most Americans simply did not care about trade policy. It was not the stuff of headlines, front page news, or sixty-second sound bites. Trade policy was made in Washington and in Geneva by a relatively small circle of government officials, trade unionists, business leaders, and academics. Critics of trade policy were not visible to most Americans during these glory days of the U.S. economy. Although many Americans disagreed with certain aspects of U.S. trade policy, they expressed their disagreement in traditional venues—the halls of Congress or executive branch buildings. Critics of U.S. trade policy rarely took to the streets.

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Chapter 5: It Came from Canada : What Americans Learned About Trade and the Social Compact During the FTA and NAFTA Debates

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pp. 110-141

Geography, for most countries and their citizens, is destiny. For Canadians, it is also a source of great ambivalence. On the one hand, they live next to the United States. The largest economy in the world is a great market for Canadian exports. On the other hand, Canadians live next to the United States. The largest economy in the world exports acid rain and occasionally erects barriers to Canadian products.

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Chapter 6: Gleaning the GATT

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pp. 142-173

As he slogged through the Reagan administration’s GATT proposals in the summer of 1987, Mark Ritchie was worried.1 Ritchie was an agricultural policy analyst for the state of Minnesota. His job was to examine how global and domestic public policies might affect Minnesota’s farmers.2

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Chapter 7: Thinking Locally, Acting Globally

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pp. 174-189

On a sunny June afternoon in 1996, some seventy economists, political scientists, reporters, and business and government officials from around the world gathered in a fancy Washington, D.C., hotel. They met to celebrate the work of the new international organization that governs trade, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and to examine trade barriers that might be reduced in future international negotiations among WTO member nations.


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pp. 191-235


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pp. 237-252


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pp. 253-264

E-ISBN-13: 9780472022236
E-ISBN-10: 0472022237
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472088676
Print-ISBN-10: 047208867X

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 3 tables
Publication Year: 2001