For decades, US presidents fought for global agreements to reduce barriers to open markets. But ever since September, when the latest round of World Trade Organization talks collapsed, the Bush administration appeared willing to let negotiations drop and just wait out the 2004 election year in the US.
To his credit, President Bush, through his trade representative, Robert Zoellick, made concessions on Monday that could bring the European Union and developing countries, such as Brazil, back to the table. The move reaffirms the historic US role as the leader of global free trade.
American farmers, like their European counterparts, are likely to fight the new Bush call for an end to major government supports for agriculture. But without such a move, poorer nations, whose farmers are hurt by rich countries' subsidized food exports, won't begin to lower their barriers. US cotton farmers, especially, will need to do with less federal support.
Without the US constantly pushing to open markets, many nations tend to drift toward putting up protectionist barriers. The task is like riding a bicycle: If you stop pedaling, the multilateral trade system might just tumble.