Trade Imbalance

The Struggle to Weigh Human Rights Concerns in Trade Policymaking

In the coming months, the U.S. Congress will vote up or down on trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, Peru, and Korea. These elected officials will not examine these agreements solely on their commercial or foreign policy benefits to the American people. They will also weigh whether or not each agreement advances particular human rights abroad. However, these Representatives proceed with little information about how trade agreements, and even trade per se, affect human rights at home or abroad. Although scholars, policymakers, and activists have long debated this relationship, in truth we know very little about it.

In the recently published book, Trade Imbalance, authors Susan Ariel Aaronson and Jamie M. Zimmerman shed much needed light on this complex issue. They use stories about frogs, chocolate, culture, tires and other topics to provide readers with new insights into the relationship between trade and human rights. They include the first study of how South Africa, Brazil, the United States, and the European Union struggle to coordinate trade and human rights objectives. They also look at how human rights issues are seeping into the WTO. Finally, Aaronson and Zimmerman also suggest ways in which policymakers can right the balance between their trade and human rights goals.

Susan Ariel Aaronson is Research Associate Professor at the George Washington University Graduate School of Business and the Elliott School of International Affairs. Jamie M. Zimmerman is Associate Director of the Global Assets Project, a joint venture of the Asset Building Program at the New America Foundation and the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis. Previously, Aaronson and Zimmerman were colleagues at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise – Washington Center. Aaronson was Senior Fellow and Director of Globalization Studies, where Jamie Zimmerman was Associate Director.

Join the New America Foundation and the Financial Times for an engaging discussion on the role of human rights in trade policy. Following the presentation, FT correspondent Eoin Callan will lead a robust Q&A session.

Praise for Trade Imbalance

"Economists generally assert that negotiations over trade and human rights should be kept separate. But as Aaronson and Zimmerman demonstrate, governments haven't heeded that advice. Instead, states have used trade policy as a way of advancing such goals as labor rights, the abolition of slavery, and access to medicines. This book will force scholars to reconsider the fundamental question of why it is that countries pursue bilateral and multilateral trade agreements in the first place."
--Ethan B. Kapstein, Paul Dubrule Professor of Sustainable Development, INSEAD

"Anyone interested in the trade and human rights linkage will find this book to be a valuable resource."
-- Steve Charnovitz, George Washington University, School of Law


New America Foundation
1630 Connecticut Ave, NW 7th Floor
Washington, DC, 20009
See map: Google Maps


  • Susan Ariel Aaronson
    Professor, George Washington University School of Business
    Co-Author, Trade Imbalance
  • Jamie Zimmerman
    Associate Director, Global Assets Project, New America Foundation
    Co-Author, Trade Imbalance
  • Barry Lynn
    Senior Fellow
    New America Foundation
  • Eoin Callan
    U.S. Economy Correspondent
    Financial Times