George Marshall testifying before a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, June 1, 1948, on the European Recovery Program. (Photo by James Whitmore/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
Free trade is about more than economics. It’s a critical part of our foreign policy and national security. And it’s long been. With the pending Trans-Pacfiic Partnership trade agreement providing a counter to China’s influence in Asia today, it’s instructive to look back at how trade played an important role in America’s post-WWII efforts to balance competing economic and political systems in the world.
For this #ThrowBackThursday, we look at testimony delivered at the House Committee on Ways and Means in 1948 by a decorated Army general and American statesman. Speaking before the Subcommittee on Tariffs and Foreign Trade, then-Secretary of State George Marshall spoke about how renewal of the trade agreements authority—a precursor to TPA—was “highly important in the present state of world affairs,” calling trade agreements “the cornerstone and keystone of our foreign economic policy.”
Marshall added,“We must now follow through with measures to make ourselves and other free nations stronger. We must work closer together in commerce. No economic bond is closer than the friendly ties of mutually satisfactory trade. No force is more divisive than the introduction or maintenance of unnecessary barriers to such trade.”
He went on to say, “We have taken leadership in the world in every effort to keep the way open for private enterprise, and if we surrender that leadership, there does not appear to be any other country at present capable of assuming the leadership in the matter. The Trade Agreements Act which has been in force now for 14 years is the cornerstone and keystone of our foreign economic policy. Any serious weakening of the Trade Agreements Act at this critical period in world affairs would almost certainly be regarded by other countries not only as a surrender of our leadership in the international economic field, but as a repudiation of much that has been accomplished under our leadership in that field. The preservation of our leadership in this field depends upon the continuity and consistency of that policy.”
And underscoring the potential for greater peace that increased trade provides, he said, “The economic factors in foreign policy now are dominant. At the moment, of course, we are concerned with reestablishing a better equilibrium of military strength to meet the fears and the possible continued subversive actions that that have been prevalent in Europe, but it is the economic factors which I think will largely determine the great issues in the international field in times of peace and will make a pattern for peace or for possible war.”
Times are no doubt much different 67 years later, but the principle remains as true as ever. Greater economic ties, bound by free enterprise and the rule of law, are fundamental to strong American leadership and greater peaceful cooperation in the world.
You can read Marshall’s entire testimony here.