Brown Warns Against Protectionism

By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, November 11, 2008

LONDON, Nov. 10 -- Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Monday warned that trade protectionism would worsen the global financial crisis, a remark widely perceived as aimed at U.S. President-elect Barack Obama.

In a speech lauding the "global power of nations working together," Brown called for "rejection of beggar-thy-neighbor protectionism that has been a feature in transforming past crises into deep recessions."

Obama's campaign rhetoric struck some allies as protectionist, particularly his calls for tax incentives to discourage companies from relocating jobs away from the United States.

"It's not pointed, but Brown is sending a nice, cautionary message to Obama," said Michael Williams, an analyst at the Royal United Services Institute, a London research organization.

"When the U.S. makes policy, it can't just think about America, because its policies have ramifications in every part of the world," Williams said. "Brown is telling Obama, 'If you set an example, others will follow.' Obama should probably take that to heart."

Brown made his remarks as part of the prime minister's annual foreign policy address at a white-tie event in the city's financial district.

While offering cautionary words on trade, Brown lavished praise on Obama's election in a speech that emphasized close relations between the United States and Europe.

"Just days ago, across the Atlantic, our closest ally gave new meaning to its founding creed that all 'are created equal,' gave new strength to the notion that the American dream is for all Americans," Brown said.

"As we have seen from reaction in America, Europe and around the globe, whatever one's politics, it can surely only be a source of hope and inspiration that a nation which once would have looked at Barack Obama and defined him only by his color today sees in him the man they want to be their president and commander in chief," Brown said.

While Brown has had cordial relations with President Bush, who is deeply unpopular in Britain and much of Europe, his aides say he expects a more naturally comfortable relationship with Obama.

A top aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Brown felt more aligned with Obama's policies, particularly on issues such as climate change.

Brown and his Labor Party have traditionally felt more in sync with the Democratic Party. Brown has long vacationed on Cape Cod, in Massachusetts, and counts leading Democratic politicians and strategists among his friends.

All but politically dead in September, Brown has become a key leader in the world's response to the financial crisis that has frozen credit markets across the world, caused chaos in stock markets and threatened a deep global recession.

Williams said Brown clearly had been emboldened by his increased popularity and enhanced international stature.

"Brown was always pretty confident in his own abilities," Williams said. "But this has enhanced his self-image, and it's put him in a stronger position to argue these things."

Throughout the crisis, Brown has called for strengthened international regulation of global flows of capital and goods. He has said he will press that agenda when leaders of 20 of the world's top economies gather in an emergency session this weekend in Washington.

"As the world's financial system works through this night of uncertainty towards a new dawn, we must use the power of multilateralism to establish a global consensus on a new, decisive and systemic approach to strengthening the global economy," he said.

"My message is that we must be internationalist, not protectionist; interventionist, not neutral; progressive, not reactive; and forward-looking, not frozen by events," Brown said. "We can seize the moment and, in doing so, build a truly global society."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company