Global protectionist threats are not over

09:21 by Hubert Fromlet, Kalmar

During President Trump’s presidency, increasing concerns about global protectionism were clearly visible. In the meanwhile, one may almost get the impression that protectionism has become a less hot topic.

However, in reality this is not the case. Many (global) companies still consider protectionism as a big or even the biggest concrete challenge beyond acute covid-19 and the current threat of overheated (asset) markets. With the knowledge we have today, this may be a realistic scenario,

The main source for the concerns about remaining or growing protectionism is the fear of further increasing nationalism. There are different signs of this.

First, there are still no encouraging signals from the U.S. pointing at more harmonization with friendly-minded countries. Rather the opposite seems to be the case when considering the American exit from Afghanistan.

Second, there is an obvious risk that future American presidential administrations will continue to apply Trump’s “America first ” policy also with friends – at least to a substantial extent – and go on conducting trade policy in the most favorable national interest of the U.S. “America first” is – of course – a kind of protectionism as well.

Third, China – as we have seen in the past – has its own definition of “free trade”. Generally spoken, China is supporting free trade when it benefits itself from such a policy. This may be a somewhat harsh description but should be more or less correct. Or differently explained: China has its own trade and FDI restrictions when it feels that its competitive position could be jeopardized by required deregulation of trade and inward FDI. According to the European Chamber of Commerce in China’s latest survey from June 2021, market access impediments were reported by 45% of the interviewed European members  (https://www.europeanchamber.com.cn/en/press-releases/3345). China’s further superpower development does not indicate a more relaxed free trade policy in the foreseeable future. However, all this is still a scenario and should not be treated as an already well-based forecast.

But check out anyway reports from World Trade Alert for getting more information about different (emerging) countries’ stance of trade policy and affected favored products (https://www.globaltradealert.org/country/95)! India is a typical country with long-time protectionism. Sure, India has been gradually opening its commercial borders in recent years – but not consequently enough (https://www.bbc.com/news/business-47857583). Historical protectionism is deeply rooted in this mega country. Watch therefore India’s trade policy in the future!

Even the EU demonstrates sometimes worrisome protectionism. In my view, the next German chancellor – representing the largest European economy – should do everything possible to convince the whole EU about the decisive need to work more ambitiously for free trade. Since trade policy is in the hands of the EU, it should speak to a global public with only one voice. The EU should act more outside its borders and not too exclusively deal with its internal issues. This includes also future relations to China.

Time to wake up!

Hubert Fromlet
Affiliate Professor at the School of Business and Economics, Linnaeus University
Editorial board

 

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