This paper takes free trade seriously

A 2003 paper (pdf) from Dean Baker:

“Free trade” has generally been used to refer to the removal of trade barriers that protect less-skilled workers… The term has rarely been used in the context of efforts to extend protectionist barriers that benefit powerful industries… A consistent proponent of “free trade” would be opposed to all these barriers to the free exchange of goods and services…

While both Democratic and Republican administrations have actively sought to lower some types of trade barriers, most notably on manufactured goods, U.S. trade negotiators have done little or nothing to lower other barriers… highly paid professionals continue to work in a well-protected labor market. This protection is one reason that wage growth for these professionals has consistently outpaced the rate of wage growth of most other workers in the United States over the last two decades…

Skilled labor is in fact a produced input… In the same way that developing countries can often produce steel or apparel at a lower cost than in the United States,developing countries will often be able to educate doctors, dentists, lawyers, or accountants — to U.S. standards – at a far lower cost than in the United States…

U.S. trade policy toward highly paid professional services has largely gone in the opposite direction in recent years, increasing barriers to foreign professionals… a new test – which only applied to foreign trained doctors — was put in place as part of the licensing requirements for foreign physicians. As a result of these restrictions, the inflow of foreign residents was cut almost in half…

[S]ince 1976, the Federal government has had a policy of refusing to hire foreign citizens, unless no qualified citizen can be found for a position. The analogous policy for goods would be a federal buying policy that required the government to purchase only U.S. made products, unless there were no domestic producers of a specific item. Such a policy would be a blatant violation of NAFTA, the WTO, and numerous other trade pacts….

The potential economic impact of freer trade in professional services is at least an order of magnitude higher than most of the items that currently dominate the trade agenda… [R]emoving barriers for four categories of highly paid professionals –doctors, dentists, lawyers, and accountants… [would produce] annual gains to consumers [that] could be between $160 billion and $270 billion, or between $2,200 and $3,700 a year for an average family of four.