Sunday, February 26, 2006

Orwellian "Free" Trade and U.S. Port Operations

This week's Congressional hysteria over the imminent deal to allow a United Arab Emirates-owned company manage several large US port operations is a blow to American attempts to promote global free trade.

From what I have read and seen so far, there is no security issue whatsoever with the change in ownership of a company which currently manages several large US port operations, from a British to an Arab conglomerate. US port security is managed by Customs and the Coast Guard, not operational management of a port. This was clearly stated when CNBC interviewed the chairman of the firm which operates the port of Houston last week.

So what we actually have is some of our country's 535 legislators up in arms because an agreed-upon vetting process does not give them final say. Did I mention the Wall Street Journal's comment regarding campaign contributions to some key New York-area senators and representatives by local cargo-handling interests? There is probably a good reason for the vetting process being handled by the Executive branch. You can be pretty sure that if Congressional members are involved, influence-peddling won't be far behind.

Most damaging in this affair, though, is its effect upon the efforts of the US to influence freer trade on a global basis. Thanks to our typically short-sighted members of Congress, such as Senators Clinton, Menendez and Schumer, and Representative King, countries such as China now have an example to which to point in the US, when they refuse to open their own economies to more global competition. Another significant, perhaps lesser issue, is the damage these same legislators are causing by failing to understand that, as it now stands, their opposition looks like ethnic bigotry targeted at Arabs, rather than a legitimate US security concern. It isn't a question of US management versus foreigners, but "these" foreigners.

Hopefully, President Bush will stick to his guns on this issue, and, after a second vetting of the deal, it will be cleared and closed. Otherwise, we risk damage to both the cause of free trade, and our image in the Arab world.

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