International trade has often been a target of those who have been adversely affected by economic disruption. As noted earlier, there is little doubt that increased trade, especially with developing countries, has increased the vulnerability of lower-skilled jobs in the United States.
Most economists believe that technological changes—which have also tended to improve overall living standards—have played a much larger role than trade in the decline of manufacturing jobs in the United States and other countries. As an occasionally painful agent of change, however, technological progress is a much more elusive target for criticism than are trade and foreign investment, in which federal or corporate actors are more easily identified. Concern about the impact of trade on jobs and wages is but one of several major sets of public concerns about trade’s impact on social welfare in the United States and other countries. These concerns have fueled complex and unresolved debates about U.S. trade policy.
|CSIS Meeting of Four Former United States Trade Representatives Recent public debate over trade issues has centered on outsourcing, the practice of moving some or all business operations overseas to take advantage of lower costs and lower wages. As discussed in “The Changing Composition of Trade,” most economists believe that outsourcing is a natural reaction that will benefit Americans down the line. However there are costs to Americans in the short run, such as high unemployment in the sectors where outsourcing is most prevalent. On March 10, 2004, four trade experts analyzed the facts, myths and potential policy responses to global outsourcing. The remarks of the former US Trade Representative’s (USTRs) are recorded http://csis.org/schollchair/040213ustr.pdf|
The concluding sections of this Issue in Depth will review two of these policy debates: the debate on the relationship between trade and international labor standards, and the debate on the relationship between trade and environment standards.