For some reason that I don't fully understand, the last few days have seen any number of commentators opining about the anti-free-trade leanings of many Democrats. Jacob Weisberg's column in today's FT is representative:
Free trade is the real election casualty: As a result of this year’s election, it now seems unlikely that the new Congress will extend President Bush’s “fast-track” trade negotiating authority, which expires this summer. The results are further bad news for the Doha round and bilateral trade agreements with South Korea and other countries. It is possible that congressional Democrats will revive efforts to saddle China with punitive tariffs as punishment for alleged “currency manipulation”. It would be going too far to say that the 2006 election ushers in a new protectionist consensus. But free trade has definitely left the building.
If the past six years could be characterised as a crusade in favour of freer trade on the part of the US administration, then there would be cause for concern. But the typical reaction from the US' trade partners to this sort of spin is hollow laughter: the Bush administration's handling of the steel tariff and the softwood lumber dispute doesn't resemble the behaviour of a principled free-trader.
Free trade may have been in the building. But it appears to have been lying in state.