Free trade has lifted mankind to a level of wealth that was recently unimaginable. In 1990, 38 percent of human beings lived in extreme poverty; today, that figure has fallen to 8 per cent, as previously closed African and Asian economies have joined the global market.
Yet, paradoxically, free trade has never been so out of fashion. Across the world, idealistic people march against trade deals, protest G20 summits, occupy stock exchanges, sincerely believing that, in doing so, they are standing up for the poor against multinational corporations – when, in reality, they are doing the opposite.
Politicians naturally respond to public opinion. We are witnessing a trade war between the world’s largest and second-largest economies. The Uruguay Round, concluded in 1994, was the last successful comprehensive multilateral trade negotiation. Until CPTPP, the last major regional trade deals were ASEAN and NAFTA, agreed in the early 1990s.
We need to recapture the moral case for open commerce. Free trade is not simply a way to buy cheaper iPhones. It is the ultimate instrument of poverty alleviation, conflict resolution and social justice.
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