January 4, 2013 9:17AM

How Trade Agreements Stray from Free Trade

I’ve mentioned before on this blog my concern that some provisions in trade agreements have little to do with free trade. Here’s a good example, from the specialty trade publication Inside U.S. Trade

U.S. labor unions are keeping an eye on the U.S.-European efforts to deepen economic ties, and believe a potential U.S.-EU trade agreement could provide an opportunity to raise some U.S. labor standards to the level prevailing in EU member states, according to labor sources.

This source noted that the EU is a community of nations that tends to have stronger labor laws than the U.S., higher union density and better wage rates. U.S. unions do not want to see a trans‐​Atlantic trade agreement used as a vehicle to lower labor standards in Europe, and they also view it as an opportunity to try to “raise up” U.S. standards to the European level, this source said.

I’ve talked about the proposed U.S.-EU free trade agreement before. To repeat what I said previously, there are some benefits to these kinds of agreements (although multilateral agreements would be much better). But I would really like to see the negotiators stick to the core issue of reducing protectionism, and not get distracted by domestic regulatory issues like the appropriate level of labor standards.