- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2000

Last week's meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, had a sense of deja vu about it. Though protesters were not given the same access as in Seattle at the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in November, they still managed to cause trouble, throwing rocks at among other things at a McDonalds restaurant. Sound familiar?
At the heart of the protesters' complaints seems to be a misguided and extreme belief that supporters of free trade are willing to sacrifice human rights and the environment for economic gain. But does anyone really believe this? Does anyone support slave labor or sweat shops? Does anyone want to see our air, land and water poisoned by toxic waste? Of course not. To do so would violate the core values that define what it means to be an American.
Most importantly, the history of free trade does not support these foolish assertions. Until as recently as the mid-1980s both Taiwan and South Korea were ruled by oppressive, authoritarian regimes. However, both political and civil liberties markedly improved as expanded trade enhanced their economic condition. Even Human Rights Watch, a group committed to the protection of individual rights, has acknowledged the power of free trade. In their endorsement of the U.S.-China trade agreement they argued that "China's membership in the WTO could increase pressure for greater openness, more press freedom, enhanced rights for workers, and an independent judiciary." They understand that exporting opportunity, higher paying jobs and improved working conditions is often the best way to demonstrate to less progressive nations the beauty of freedom and democracy.
Conversely, some of the world's most brutal, backward regimes, such as North Korea and Libya, are also some of the most hostile to free trade, openness and engagement. Has isolation and repression helped improve human rights, worker protection and the environment in those countries? Have these nations ceased to be a threat to the security of the United States and other nations? To the contrary, the lack of free trade has ensured only that the people of North Korea and Libya will continue to endure further poverty and repression for years to come.
As a member of the House International Relations Committee, I have worked extensively on trade-related issues. That's why I traveled to Seattle to participate in the WTO Conference. I truly believed that representatives from all member countries of the WTO could sit down together in good faith to begin the long process of developing a global free trade policy that fosters economic growth and improves human rights, worker protections and the environment. But instead of coming together to discuss these issues, we were forced to spend much of the time locked-down in our hotel rooms because of the lawless behavior of the protesters. It is sadly ironic that efforts to address these issues were sabotaged by some of their strongest self-proclaimed advocates.
The failure to address these issues should concern us all. Free and fair trade is a fundamental aspect of prosperity and economic growth. As the global economy expands, our economic health is becoming increasingly reliant on our ability to conduct business in other markets. Countless industries technology, agriculture, even entertainment rely on foreign markets to succeed.
Here in Arizona free trade has given us the strongest economy in years. Motorola and Intel, two of the largest high-tech employers in the state, heavily rely on foreign markets to sell their advanced technology products. Likewise, Boeing, which operates a plant in Mesa, sells aircraft to numerous countries throughout the world. And Arizona's growing agricultural industry has seen foreign sales surge as improved technologies have increased the ability to transport fruits, vegetables and other agricultural products overseas. These are just a few examples of the many jobs and industries in Arizona that depend on free trade.
Clearly, free and fair trade is not only the engine that drives economic growth, but it is also the catalyst for improved human rights, worker protections and environmental preservation. Unfortunately, because of the violent actions of the protesters in Seattle, efforts to address these important issues will have to wait for another day. That will always be the legacy of Seattle that those most passionately opposed to poverty and exploitation did the most to preserve it. How ironic.

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