If George W. Bush is re-elected, Zoellick would presumably continue on his course. One problem is the 2002 farm bill, which increased subsidies. That bill was signed by Bush, reluctantly, as the best he could get at a time when the agriculture committees were headed by Republican Rep. Larry Combest, from a cotton-farming Texas district, and Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, from corn-growing Iowa.
But Combest has retired and been replaced by Bob Goodlatte, a free-marketeer from a non- subsidy-crop district in Virginia. The Senate committee remains pro-subsidy, but Bush, if re-elected, will have more leverage in conference committee deliberations when the farm bill comes up in 2006 than he did in 2002.
John Kerry seems likely to take a different approach. He had no immediate comment on the Geneva agreement, which is fair enough -- this is a complex issue, and he hasn't had much chance to ponder it on the campaign trail. But at the Boston convention he reiterated his support for "fair trade." That's code for the approach favored by labor unions, which insist that trade agreements must have labor and environmental protections that go beyond what most developing countries will agree to. Details matter: Zoellick says that he has negotiated for labor and environmental standards, but not for those as stringent as the unions want.
Of course it is possible that a President Kerry may take the approach taken by Senator Kerry before his campaign, when he voted for all trade agreements to come before him. More likely is that a Kerry-appointed trade representative would have a harder time reaching agreement than Zoellick, because he would be seeking more concessions. And it's possible that Kerry would simply downplay the negotiations if only to preserve farm subsidies at roughly current levels.
There was little difference on trade between the major party candidates in the 1992 and 1996 elections, and not very much in 2000. But this time the nation has a pretty clear choice on trade.
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