Comment: Britain gave the world free trade. Now we must defend it as never before

Whenever a Chancellor delivers a budget speech to the Commons, it is natural to ponder the prospects for the UK economy and the consequences of the policies announced. The measures outlined by Philip Hammond will indeed be important, but the Autumn Statement must be seen in a bigger, global context.

Even as Mr Hammond was finalising his plans, Donald Trump was confirming that when he takes office as US President in January, he will kill the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal with Asian nations, including China. Trade policy can be esoteric and boring, but this is of the greatest importance to the world and especially to Britain.

An island nation that built a global empire less on military power than commercial exchange, Britain has always prospered when countries buy and sell to one another with ease. For many, it was the call of the open sea and the opportunity to trade more freely that led them to vote to leave the European Union, whose rules often work against free trade. To seize fully the opportunities of Brexit, we must do more business around the world.

As such, a US retreat from free trade would be a matter of profound concern to Britain and its open economy. To be fair, TTP was not perfect and Mr Trump is promising to seek bilateral trade deals with the countries involved: we wish him luck in that, not least since Britain should also be seeking such a bilateral trade agreement with the US at the earliest moment.

But we must remember that Mr Trump was elected after a campaign in which he promised voters in America’s industrial heartlands he would protect them and their jobs from global competition, even suggesting he was willing to withdraw from the World Trade Organisation that provides the ground rules for global trade. That would do grievous harm to the global economy.

Diplomatic dealings with the new president will be challenging, to say the least, but to discharge its duty of promoting Britain’s economic interests, the Government should do everything it can to persuade Mr Trump – and the voters who put him in power – that freer trade ultimately makes everyone better off. With another protectionist hoping to take the presidency in France next year, free trade is under sustained attack. As so often, it falls to Britain to lead the world here. We largely invented free trade, and the world is better for it. Now we must defend it as never before.


Donald Trump announces he will pull US out of TPP


Watch | Donald Trump announces he will pull US out of TPP


00:29


Leave a Reply