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At G-20, is Obama sincere about open trade?

His actions toward protectionism speak louder than his words.

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A call by the G-20 summit for countries to keep their borders open to movement of goods and capital won't mean much if President Obama does otherwise.

The world has looked to the US for leadership in opening markets since 1945, when American officials cited protectionism as helping prolong the Depression and as a cause for World War II.

As post-war US presidents have achieved greater free trade, the world has also experienced its fastest growth in prosperity, with even the communist regimes in China and Russia eventually hopping on the open-market bandwagon.

Now, despite a deep recession, Mr. Obama cannot simply mouth support for trade and then act differently, as he has done. Trade may not be the spark for economic recovery but the raising of barriers would only dampen a recovery. That certainly was the case with the 1930 Smoot-Hawley law that raised tariffs on some 20,000 imported items.

Although the US is far from such a drastic step, Obama has so far equivocated on free trade, which only sets an example for other nations to resort to protectionism. He did little to keep Congress from putting a "buy American" provision in the giant stimulus bill. And he signed onto a measure that violates NAFTA by barring Mexican trucks in the US.

Mexico had every right to retaliate, which it did with higher tariffs on 89 American products. By some estimates, those tariffs will cost 40,000 US jobs.

The Obama administration has also raised the prospect of slapping tariffs on imports from countries that don't limit carbon emissions – "in order to protect American industries."


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