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Why are these two men smiling?

Textilespan_1The New York Times reports (rr) on the surreal world of international trade.  At the beginning of 2005, America allowed Chinese textiles to enter the country freely for the first time since forever.  But it didn’t last long.  The Administration quickly started putting limits on particular products.  Now, we’ve negotiated a new set of quotas.

The trade agreement that the United States and China announced Tuesday,
limiting China’s clothing exports for the next three years, makes
official what had already been happening: the return of quotas, at
least for the world’s largest textile and apparel power.
Even before Tuesday’s pact, the United States had unilaterally imposed
a series of emergency limits on 19 categories of garments and textiles,
curtailing growth in exports to 7.5 percent a year despite an end to
the global system of quotas last Jan. 1. The European Union reached its
own agreement with China in the summer to limit exports…

The textile deal negotiated in London specifically covers 34
categories, replacing limits on 19 categories and adding 15 more. All
of these would be allowed to grow by 10 percent in 2006, by 12.5
percent in 2007 and by 15 to 16 percent in 2008. Chinese exports surged
as much as tenfold in some categories at the beginning of this year.

And how does the U.S Trade Representative, shown smiling in the picture from the Times story, describe his achievement at preventing Americans from buying clothes made by poor Chinese workers, thereby artificially preserving certain types of American jobs at the expense of others?

Mr. Portman said at the signing ceremony that the deal was "fair to our
retailers and our consumers" and that it would help resolve future
trade disputes with China.

I’d love to be at the press conference announcing this deal and ask how it’s fair to consumers.

The absurdity reaches its peak in the closing paragraph of the story:

Chinese officials have denounced limits on their exports as
protectionism, and strongly objected to American and European pressure
on them to impose limits. But the United States and other countries
allowed China to join the World Trade Organization in November 2001,
only after China agreed that other W.T.O. members would be allowed to
restrict Chinese textile and apparel exports through 2008 if these
exports surged and disrupted markets.

Isn’t that nice?  We told China they could join the WTO (supposedly an organizatin of nations committed to free trade as long as they allowed us to keep out their products.  An especially nice touch is the reference to "market disruption," another fake phrase like "fair" that means whatever the speaker deems it to mean.