Trade in a Time of Protectionism

COLOMBO – As China’s economy slows and growth in the developed world remains anemic, governments across Asia are working to keep their economies on an upward trajectory. In Sri Lanka, where I am Prime Minister, the challenge is to find a way to accelerate our already steady economic growth.

One thing is clear: We cannot expect the rest of the world to welcome our economic ambitions the way it once opened its arms to China’s rapid rise as an economic power or – in earlier decades – cheered on the growth of Japan and the so-called Asian Tigers, including South Korea.

Today, we Asians are witnessing, on an almost daily basis, fierce political assaults on the tools and policies that have helped lift hundreds of millions of our citizens out of poverty. Indeed, this year, free trade appears to be the scapegoat of choice among the world’s assorted populists and demagogues.

In the United States’ presidential election campaign, for example, the leading candidates in both the Republican and Democratic primaries have questioned the wisdom of seeking greater openness in world trade. In the United Kingdom, euroskeptics campaigning for the country to leave the European Union denigrate the benefits of the single European market. Elsewhere in Europe, populists are demanding that the drawbridges of trade be raised.