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The real issue on free trade

It's not whether to lower barriers with Colombia but how to help US workers adjust.

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Two different debates on free trade are raging in America. One is on whether to curb or expand trade, such as under a proposed trade pact with Colombia. The other is how to cope with it. Which debate is the real one?

Looking only at headlines, it would appear free trade itself is the issue of import, so to speak, rather than how to help workers deal with an already globalized economy.

During primary contests in union-heavy states such as Pennsylvania, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are competing to promise trade protection to workers, even saying they would renegotiate the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. And this week, President Bush sent the Colombia trade pact to Congress which, under law, has 90 days to reject or approve the measure. Some lawmakers say passage is impossible.

In both these cases, reality is something else.

Unless the United States now turns on its history of openness and starts withdrawing from the world, it's a bold assertion to say the Colombia pact will not pass. Congress has never rejected a free-trade pact, including one last year for Peru. And for good reason. America's ability to compete globally has made it the world's largest exporter and one of the wealthiest nations per capita.

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