Debate on Trade: It Isn’t Just About How Many Cases You Bring to the WTO

Ryan Olson /

Trade policy with China was again front and center in last night’s presidential debate, with President Obama defending his Administration’s trade policies.

In particular, the President highlighted the number of cases his Administration has prosecuted at the World Trade Organization (WTO) as his signature trade achievement:

[We] set up a trade task force to go after cheaters when it came to international trade…[and have] brought more cases against China for violating trade rules than…the previous Administration had done in two terms.

Successful trade policy isn’t just about how many cases you have brought before the WTO. It’s also about lowering trade barriers that act as taxes on consumers, opening up new markets for American businesses, and negotiating free trade agreements with our allies.

The President’s “achievement” isn’t even that unique. In total, he has brought one case fewer to the WTO than President Bush did in his first term, and he pales in comparison to the 45 cases President Clinton brought before the WTO in his second term.

According to The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, trade freedom in the United States has stagnated since 2007. In order to stay competitive in the global economy, we can’t just promote a trade policy that measures its success simply by how many cases are brought to the WTO, as this Administration has done.

Instead, we need to promote more trade and defend low tariffs and open markets throughout the world. We should focus on negotiating trade pacts with our allies, such as Georgia and the EU, while insulating our neighbors in the Caribbean from the statism and protectionism of Hugo Chavez. Promoting trade—both imports and exports—isn’t just about filing cases at the WTO; it’s about promoting the free flow of goods and services that leads to growth and prosperity here and throughout the world.