Free trade. There has never been a more effective tool for generating wealth and eradicating poverty. In the nineteenth and eighteenth centuries, the UK and many other western nations started to freely trade with each other and with other countries around the world. They became incredibly wealthy as a result, and millions of their citizens were lifted out of a life of poverty and subsistence. More recently, China has to embrace international trade with the rest of the world, and countless people are alive today thanks to them opening their markets.
But, despite its track record, free trade has been under attack recently. With the anti-competitive trade practices of the Chinese government and an escalating trade war between the United States and other countries, it looks as though it’s actually on the back foot.
For the UK, however, even with all the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, it looks as though free trade is firmly back on the agenda. Leaving the customs union means that this country will be responsible for negotiating its free trade deals for the first time in decades.
Given the importance of free trade for bringing prosperity, it is vitally important that we get it right. As such, it’s encouraging that the new international trade secretary is Liz Truss, someone who was not only a strong advocate for free trade during her time at the Treasury but is the Tory party’s leading advocate of capitalism and freedom.
Given that the deadline for Brexit is fast approaching, the UK now has an unprecedented opportunity to consider its place in the world. So, what should the Department for International Trade’s priorities be?
First, whatever the nature of the country’s withdrawal from the EU, it is important that we strike a comprehensive free trade arrangement with them. They are our biggest trading partner, and so it is important that businesses in the UK can trade tariff-free so that people and businesses continue to reap the benefits of free trade.
However, our dealings with the EU should not lead to paralysis when it comes to dealing with other nations. The trade department must enter into free trade agreements with other countries.
A good place to start would be Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. These are countries with which we have a shared history, similar cultural values, and all have highly advanced economies. Removing tariffs and other trade barriers between the UK and these countries will bring increased prosperity to our citizens.
We should also seriously consider allowing freedom of movement between these countries, allowing British businesses to access the best talent while allowing UK citizens to live, study, and work in these nations, making the most of what they have to offer.
Then, of course, there is the United States. It is the wealthiest country on the planet. As such, UK businesses having barrier-free access to their consumers would be a tremendous boon.
Then there is Asia, with countries such as Singapore and Japan which are incredibly wealthy, with citizens ready to buy our goods and services. What’s more, there are businesses in these countries which have developed cutting edge technologies, many of which would be much cheaper in the UK if we removed trade barriers.
China and India have huge populations with a growing middle class and are set to become economic superpowers over the coming decades. As such, a free trade deal with these countries will benefit the UK now and far into the future.
Finally, there are emerging markets all around the world. Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, South Korea, and many others. These countries can provide goods and services at a low cost.
A free trade arrangement between the UK and these countries would mean consumers in the UK would be able to get their hands on the things they want and need at much lower prices. The economic strength of these countries is also increasing, with their peoples becoming wealthier, thereby increasing demands for goods and services provided by British businesses too.
The coming weeks, months, and years are set to bring plenty of challenges and uncertainty for the government. However, they should see it as an opportunity to usher in a new era of prosperity for the UK by embracing free trade with Europe and the rest of the world. With Liz Truss as the secretary of state, Britain is in good hands.