Bhagwati: trade agreements as termites

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Jagdish Bhagwati held a Q&A on Daniel Altman's blog on globalization at International Herald Tribune. Altman has an impressive calendar ahead - look for opportunities to ask questions of Joseph Stiglitz and Jeffrey Sachs in coming months. To a question about the proliferation of regional trade agreements at the expense of multilateral improvements, Bhagwati writes:

I am actually halfway through writing a small book titled Termites in the Trading System: How Preferential Trade Agreements are Undermining Multilateral Free Trade.

On a question about global pressures exerted on local suppliers regarding environmental and labor standards:

My view therefore is that, if you feel strongly about something, go for labeling (which itself can be expensive) rather than for de facto exclusion or boycotts. Typically, however, these NGOs, including campus groups, want monopoly for their own favored products. Instead of carrying the so-called “fair trade” coffee as an added item on the menu, they would like to throw all the other coffees off the shelf. Similarly, the anti-sweatshop students want contracts for sportswear to be given only to those they approve of, with no quarter for other makes. This is self-righteousness and arrogance; it is also a violation of our democratic rights and a blow against diversity and competition among different conceptions of virtue and of CSR. It must be objected to.

His criticism of fair trade products is strengthened by the FT's disappointing findings from a fair trade coffee investigation in Peru.

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