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By Philippe Legrain 1 COMMENT

The Democrats have scored a stunning victory in the midterm Congressional elections. It looks like they have captured control of not only the House of Representatives but also the Senate. Both President Bush and Nancy Pelosi, the incoming speaker of the House, have pledged to work together in a spirit of bipartisanship. Pigs might fly, you will say. But in two areas at least – immigration and trade – they would do well to agree on a common agenda that would benefit both of them, as well as America as a whole.

Two years ago, President Bush put forward proposals for immigration reform consisting of tougher border security and a new temporary-worker programme that would provide a legal route for foreigners to come do the jobs that Americans can’t or won’t do, as well as a path for the 12 million or so illegal immigrants in the US to regularise their situation. Unfortunately, while the outgoing Republican-led Congress agreed to the first part of Bush’s package, his temporary-worker plan is still gathering dust. So the workers that America needs continue to have to risk death to get there, and then have to live in a shadow world of illegality, leaving them open to exploitation and undermining the rule of a law.

A Democratic-led Congress can – and should – do better. Not only because it is right for America, but because one of its core constituencies – Hispanic voters – is unsurprisingly keen on more liberal immigration rules. And if Congress can agree on a temporary-worker programme, President Bush is hardly in a position to veto it, since he has proposed one himself. Indeed, he would be doing Republicans a big service by trying to steer them away from their increasingly hardline anti-immigration stance, which doubtless cost them many Hispanic votes.

On immigration, then, the president would do well to reach out to the new Democratic majority. On trade, however, it is the Democrats who ought to reach out to the president. Forgetting Bill Clinton’s success in pushing through the Uruguay Round of trade liberalisation and his wise plea to "make change your friend", they are in danger of painting themselves into a corner as the anti-globalisation party. Instead of trying to shape globalisation in the interests of all Americans, they increasingly seek to oppose its many manifestations: offshoring to India, cheap imports from China and so on. Yet the US is more than capable of crafting policies that allow it to reap all the benefits of globalisation while minimising its costs: driving forward the Doha Round at the WTO, for instance, while offering health insurance and job retraining for workers who lose their jobs because of economic change.

In practical terms, the Democrats should throw their weight behind a relaunch of the Doha Round and an extension, when it expires in June 2007, to President Bush’s fast-track negotiating authority – a power that an incoming Democratic president would find handy in 2008. Fast-track would give US negotiators the mandate they need to clinch an ambitious Doha deal that reduces farm protectionism, boosts economic growth and helps the world’s poor, while still leaving Congress the final say over whether to approve it.

Pie in the sky? Probably – but here’s to hoping that Democrats follow the advice of the boy from Hope.

Posted 09 Nov 2006 in Blog, Immigration, Trade, United States
  1. Anonymous says:

    Unfortunately, I think many new democrats were elected precisely because of their anti-globalization stance. Every debate I encounter on the issue takes the same form: argument after argument explaining the benefits of free trade on one end, the repetition of 30-year wage stagnation on the other. It doesn’t seem to matter that there are innumerable policies to improve domestic worker situations without harming American consumers and foreign workers.

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