As President Obama crafts his 2013 trade agenda, he should look to the words of Ronald Reagan for inspiration:

Free trade serves the cause of economic progress, and it serves the cause of world peace.

When governments get too involved in trade, economic costs increase and political disputes multiply. Peace is threatened. In the 1930’s, the world experienced an ugly specter—protectionism and trade wars and, eventually, real wars and unprecedented suffering and loss of life.

There are some who seem to believe that we should run up the American flag in defense of our markets. They would embrace protectionism again and insulate our markets from world competition. Well, the last time the United States tried that, there was enormous economic distress in the world. World trade fell by 60 percent, and young Americans soon followed the American flag into World War II.

Reagan was right. Politicians should not protect politically powerful special interests, such as the sugar industry or the clothing industry, from international competition at the expense of average Americans. The recently released 2013 Index of Economic Freedom, published by The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal, shows that countries with low trade barriers are much more prosperous than those that restrict imports.

Some believe that the government should restrict imports from countries when we disagree with their trade policies or that U.S. taxpayers should subsidize politically connected corporations because other countries subsidize theirs. President Reagan had an unambiguous answer for them:

We’re in the same boat with our trading partners. If one partner shoots a hole in the boat, does it make sense for the other one to shoot another hole in the boat? Some say, yes, and call that getting tough. Well, I call it stupid.

In 2013, President Obama should pursue an intelligent trade policy that expands economic freedom in the United States and around the globe.