Trading Up in Qatar

The real protests at this week's World Trade Organization talks aren't public. They're happening behind closed doors, and they're coming from farmers' groups, unions, and corporations.

Expanding global freedom for trade - the whole point of the WTO negotiations in the sheikdom of Qatar - is bound to put thousands of companies and millions of people out of work. But so did the cotton gin, NAFTA, and just-in-time management. Economic progress is inevitable, and so should be lowering of trade barriers. The difficult (and compassionate) issue is how to manage the transition so that workers and firms can adjust, instead of being protected forever.

But in Qatar so far, each nation's delegation appears to be defending special interests rather than doing the horse-trading necessary to strike a deal that will help all nations, rich and poor. Ending trade barriers would hike the income of developing countries by between $200 billion and $500 billion a year, according to the World Bank. That alone is worth making a deal.

The United States is defending textile workers, steel companies, and others, while its big developed-nation trading partners, the European Union and Japan, have their own feisty fiefdoms demanding special breaks.

The war on terrorism hangs over the talks in the Gulf, forcing tighter security. But the war's larger meaning is that now is the time to expand freedom, not keep it in check.

Just as the US and its Western allies used open trade during the cold war as a diplomatic tool to oppose communism, they should now expand trade to end the poverty that drives many nations and people to support terrorism against rich nations. That's the "protest" that should be heard.

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