In economics, free trade means the trading of goods and services without any regulations or barriers such as taxes, laws, or quotas that could give an advantage over a competitor. Free trade advocates put an emphasis on open markets, free access, and little government interference.
Free trade is the opposition to the economic theory of mercantilism, which was dominant from the 16th to the 18th century and promotes the idea that a nation's success depends solely on its capital. Proponents of the mercantile system also believe that the government should play the role of the protectionist by supporting exports and dissuading imports.
Today, the United States stands as a major proponent of free trade, having helped found numerous organizations, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The U.S. also helped establish trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Despite past and recent U.S. developments in free trade, the issue has been - and continues to be - very controversial among the U.S. and many economies and governments around the world. In fact, a CNN poll in July 2008 found that 51 percent of Americans view foreign trade as a threat to the economy, and only four in 10 Americans say free trade "presents an opportunity for economic growth."
Trade and the economy were certainly key issues in the 2008 election. In the same CNN poll, almost six out of 10 voters ranked the economy as the number one issue out of 15 vital issues in the campaign.
For more information on free trade and the issue's opponents, check out the Web sites below.