While U.S. investors fret over Europe and align themselves closer to markets in China, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has another idea.
In a word: Russia.
Of course, it's not that easy. There have been serious disagreements over the decades between what used to be the world's two reigning super powers. But now doing business with Russia is the right thing to do, Clinton writes in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece Wednesday.
It is the right thing to do, she says, for all those pompous American reasons, such as: "We'll be able to use the World Trade Organization's tools to hold it (Russia) accountable for meeting these obligations," Clinton wrote, referring to "a more transparent and accountable government," among other items.
Russia, in fact, will join the WTO later this summer, which Clinton sees as an opportunity for international trade to work its magic on the motherland, nudging Russia ever closer to that cleverest of win-win situations: U.S. companies simply profit from trading with Russia, which supports U.S. jobs, while Russia, puzzled at first over the WTO's rule book, eventually becomes a world leader in transparency and civil rights.
Stranger things have happened -- but the average memory doesn't reach many of these. In point of fact, joining the WTO was supposed to do the same thing for China.
It didn't work there and it won't work in Russia, either.
Regarding China, the WTO has turned into the boxing ring where one embittered trade fight after another is played out. Grand epiphanies in the name of democracy? Not so much.
China's protectionist policies run so pervasively deep through its own economic framework that nibbling at the edges through the WTO seems as futile as it gets.
It won't be much different when Russia joins the WTO. As Clinton writes: "WTO membership alone will not suddenly create the kind of change being sought by the Russian people. But it is in our long-term strategic interest to collaborate with Russia in areas where our interests overlap."
Of course, all bets are off, Clinton explains, until Congress revokes the Jackson-Vanik law from the 1970s that limits deals with Russia with the purpose of forcing Russia to allow Russian Jews to emigrate.
In an election year, the tragedy will be in watching modern political candidates turn a law that should have already been dropped into a wedge issue of the moment.
In an election year, there is nothing more tempting, as Clinton herself seems to realize, than using someone's moral failing to make oneself look good.
In international markets Wednesday, the Nikkei 225 index in Japan added 1.11 percent while the Shanghai composite index in China lost 0.34 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong climbed 0.53 percent while the Sensex in India rose 0.22 percent.
The S&P/ASX 200 in Australia added 0.22 percent.
In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index in Britain gained 0.4 percent while the DAX 30 in Germany rose 0.19 percent. The CAC 40 in France lost 0.22 percent while the Stoxx Europe 600 added 0.2 percent.
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