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Go easy on free trade as top security concern

Obama and Romney see trade as the main issue in foreign policy, which helps explain why three free-trade pacts just passed Congress. But trade isn't always a matter of security. Its main purpose is creating wealth and expanding the economic pie.

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The free-trade pacts with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia passed Congress this week like a breeze. So why did it take four years?

One answer may lie in the way that Democrats and Republicans have lately tried to reframe their views about trade in the face of slow growth and persistent high unemployment.

No longer is trade just good economics, forcing companies and workers to innovate and be more productive. Now it is also central to national security, perhaps even more than the military.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, for example, gave a speech today in New York in which she said security is not just facing down a military foe but “is shaped in boardrooms and on trading floors – as well as on battlefields.”

She even seemed to characterize market-manipulating tactics of other countries as hostile acts. She cited China, the world’s second-largest economy, as unfairly using government-controlled enterprises and financial institutions to boost exports.

“Today we see [Chinese] hybrid companies masquerading as commercial actors but actually controlled by states and acting with strategic consequences,” she said.

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