The topic for the 2019 NHSDLC Nationals Tournament is:
“Resolved: On balance, countries should pursue free trade policies over protectionism.”
Countries can interact with one another in many ways, but on a daily basis there is no larger interaction than trade. Trade policy is one of the defining features of any country’s foreign policy. In 2018, total global exports were valued at nearly 20 trillion dollars, with China contributing over 10 percent to this total. Some countries are net importers, while others specialize in the export of goods. Undeniably, trade has grown to be a very significant portion of all global economic activity.
When China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, it seemed that global consensus had finally turned irreversibly towards free trade, resolving the centuries long dispute over the wealth of nations, and marking the start of a new era of decreasing trade barriers. This perception was mistaken. Recently, WTO talks have stalled, anti-free trade political movements are gaining momentum across many countries, and the global free trade consensus is arguably fractured.
Indeed, the United Kingdom voted in favor of leaving the European Union in June 2016, starting an arduous process of decoupling some of the world’s largest economies and returning to a time of more restricted trade. A few months later, in November, Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, promising to help restore the glory of American manufacturing by protecting industries from foreign competition. Trump has followed through on these promises by increasing tariffs on many countries, even on close allies like Canada. Now in 2019, the question of whether or not countries should continue to expand international free trade agreements is at the forefront of the minds of many experts.
What are free trade and protectionism?
Free trade is composed of policies that reduce the barriers to buying and selling goods across borders. In a perfect free trade situation, a company in one country is allowed to buy goods in another country without paying any extra taxes or fees. Free trade reduces the cost of goods imported from other countries, encouraging more trade. Countries often have more favorable free trade relationships with neighboring countries and allies.
Protectionism is the implementation of policies that increase barriers to trade. One of the most common protectionist policies are tariffs. Tariffs are taxes that the government puts on goods purchased from other countries. The goal of the tariff is to increase the cost of foreign produced goods in order to encourage people to instead buy the same good produced by a domestic company. Right now, the majority of countries have policies that balance free trade in some parts of their economy while protecting specific types of industry.
What is this debate about?
Proponents of increasing free trade say it is obvious. Since reducing the cost of trade will lead to more trade globally, countries will be encouraged to specialize in the goods they can naturally produce the best in order to effectively compete on the international market. The total size of the global economy will grow as productivity increases, and all countries will be able to profit.
Those who argue for greater barriers to trade usually don’t dispute that lowering barriers will cause a greater amount of trade. Instead, they argue that even when the global economy grows, the gains are unfairly distributed. Some critics of free trade accuse it of being exploitative. Many developing countries are still poor, while the profits of large, multinational companies have grown drastically as they are able to reach more and more customers. In developing nations, foreign companies have been able to extract natural resources, causing damage to the environment, with little to no profit being shared with locals. In developed nations, many are unemployed and poor because their jobs have been moved overseas.
As the benefits of free trade have become more obvious, so too have the harms come into sharper focus. This topic will challenge debaters to examine the huge increases in total overall wealth resulting from greater trade, and weigh this against the harms that have been caused to those who have been left behind.
In response to 21st century troubles, should countries further lower trade barriers or return to a more restricted and limited global market of the past?