The G-20 Summit vs. Free Trade

The Group of 20 summit, comprised of the world's wealthiest nations, is set to begin a week from tomorrow in Pittsburgh. The timing could not be more prescient (albeit the output might be explicitly what we're not looking for). Consider that in this morning's WSJ we're reminded that "at the G-20 summit in London in April, leaders pledged to 'refrain from raising new barriers to investment to trade in goods and services, imposing new export restrictions [and] extending this pledge to the end of 2010' ". But from a report "released Monday by Global Trade Alert, a team of trade analysts backed by independent think tanks, the World Bank and the U.K. government" we learn that "G-20 members have passed more than 100 blatantly discriminatory measures" since last Spring.

The Journal column quotes some astounding statistics from the GTA report: "the number of discriminatory trade laws outnumbers liberalizing trade laws by six to one. Governments are applying protectionist measures at the rate of 60 per quarter. More than 90% of goods traded in the world have been affected by some sort of protectionist measure [emphasis added] [and] China is the country targeted by the most governments for protectionist measures. Fifty-five countries have passed measures that hurt Chinese exports. That is followed by the U.S., with 49 measures against it; and Japan, with 46."

'Astounding' is an understatement. Even if we allow for a generous standard deviation, "90% of goods traded" having been affected by protectionist measures has to give us all pause when assigning any credibility to the outcome of next week's summit. It surely looks like Obama's tire tariff might just be the tip of the iceberg -- and "global free trade" is the Titanic.

William Busch

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