PRAGUE – Global free trade provides the greatest opportunity to improve human welfare over the next decade and a half. It has already helped lift more than a billion people out of poverty over the past quarter-century. Lowering trade barriers even more could double average incomes in the poorest parts of the world over the next 15 years.
Yes, there are costs to free trade that must be better addressed; but the costs are vastly outweighed by the benefits. Yet, in rich countries today, the mood has turned against free trade. That is a tragedy.
Nowhere is opposition to free trade louder than in the United States. Regardless of who wins next month’s presidential election, a free-trade skeptic will occupy the White House. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump oppose the biggest trade initiative launched by President Barack Obama’s administration – the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with 11 other Pacific Rim countries – and both would revisit the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which has been in force since 1994.
The other major Obama-led trade initiative, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and the European Union, is all but dead, crippled by opposition on both continents and by the UK’s Brexit referendum result, widely interpreted as a vote for protectionism.