Ships in portThe USA is supposed to be a beacon to the world in terms of the openness of its economy, a dynamic country ready and prepared for globalisation. Oh, maybe not. Take one look at the reaction to the idea that Dubai Ports World may have taken control of 6 US ports as part of a deal to buy P&O. Congress was up in arms at the idea, and were ready to veto Bush’s plans. Here are a couple of quotes:

REP. JERRY LEWIS (R-CA), CHAIR, APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE: This is a national security issue; this is a national security bill. We want to make sure that the security of our ports is in America’s hands.

REP. MARCY KAPTUR (D), OHIO: I can’t tell you an issue that my constituents have asked me about repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly. And for Congress to not act I think is absolutely not in the national interest.

(quotes from this PBS News article)

So what is the reaction like in the UK? Take this article from BBC News Online as a guide. Plenty of discussion about the pros and cons of the deal, but seen very much in terms of the debate within the USA.

Not a word in sight about the real issues here: the USA has a horrendously enormous trade defecit – surprise, surprise – as a result of that, plenty of US assets and firms end up in the hands of non-US firms. Second, the position of Congress here is effectively economic nationalism – sod globalisation or free trade. They don’t want a firm – from the middle east!!! – taking control of US ports.

Then compare all of that the outcry when the French government annouced that it hoped that GDF and Suez were likely to merge. This is the worst of protectionism everyone howled. Here are a couple of quotes:

JEAN-FRANCOIS COPE, FRENCH GOVERNMENT SPOKESPERSON: [our policy is] neither interventionism nor protectionism but something modern – we have a decision here which is linked to a modern economic patriotism.

PETER MANDELSON, EU TRADE COMMISSIONER: The simplistic solutions of protectionism and economic nationalism will lead nowhere.

(quotes from Reuters and The Scotsman)

Now, in terms of principle, is the GDF/Suez case substantially any different from the Dubai Ports issue? Bear that in mind the next time you hear Bush or others from the American government criticising Europe about protectionism.

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