A public policymaking term that insults the intelligence is free trade. To businesses and consumers, free trade means voluntary exchanges absent of the state. To governments, it is defined as a complex set of rules that bureaucrats need to manage. In today’s world, it is neither free nor is it about trade. Be it restrictions, regulations, rules, or cronyism, bilateral and multilateral agreements do not advance the cause of international commerce but rather the weaponization of cross-border transactions of goods and services.
Whether it is in the United States or China, politicians have exploited pacts for political purposes and forced poorer nations to oblige – otherwise, their shipments of crude oil or their imports of fighter jets would be suspended. That is how modern-day free trade deals function.
Biden and Friends Warn of ‘Consequences’
In 2013, when NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden exposed the mass surveillance program undertaken by the U.S. government, then-Vice President Joe Biden hopped on the telephone and called any country that had reportedly been in contact with Snowden and his legal team. Biden warned that there would be “consequences” if any of the 27 countries granted the former NSA employee asylum.
Journalist Glenn Greenwald reported that Biden contacted the Cuban government and informed them that the island nation would suffer consequences like never before. The terse words prompted Havana to withdraw its safe passage guarantee. He added that other states would contact Snowden’s attorneys and inform them that Biden threatened to launch a trade war or exit a treaty should they grant asylum.
And it was not only Biden. Snowden told MSNBC’s Brian Williams in September 2019 that even then-Secretary of State John Kerry participated in efforts to thwart his asylum, revealing that “if you protect this man, if you let this guy out of Russia, there will be consequences. We’re not going to say what they’re going to be, but there will be a response.”
Feeling emboldened by the Obama-Biden administration’s tough response, members of Congress also threatened to impose economic penalties on any nation, including Ecuador, that welcomed Snowden.
Despite a promise to “empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance” – a statement that was scrubbed from the administration after Snowden’s revelations – former President Barack Obama and his pal, Biden, engaged in a historic war on whistleblowers. And the level of indifference from the mainstream media was purely partisan, evident by the Fourth Estate’s sudden love for whistleblowers in President Donald Trump’s era. But that is another topic for a different day.
Australia’s Fortune Cookies Break
The Australian government made a simple request: Initiate an independent COVID-19 investigation. Prime Minister Scott Morrison recommended the World Health Organization (WHO) be supplied with “weapons inspector” powers to investigate the pandemic. The result? China launched a trade dispute with one of its largest trading partners in the region. The bilateral disruption to trade has impacted Australia’s $104 billion commodity exports, including beef, barley, coal, cotton, iron ore, and wine.
Canberra desired to understand the coronavirus’ origins, but Beijing’s feelings were hurt, and it erected trade barriers in response. Not only that, the Chinese government published a travel warning and essentially accused the Australian government of being racist. China has ostensibly earned a doctorate in wokeology.
Considering recent reports suggesting that Wuhan had as many as ten times the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, Australia’s demands have seemingly been justified. Still, the quest for truth could come with a steep price-tag for the world’s 14th-largest economy, particularly as some estimates prognosticate that growth may never return to pre-pandemic levels should Australia-China relations deteriorate further.
The Problem with Managed Trade
And here lies the problem with central planning and government-managed trade. If it is not bad enough that politicians toss in cronyist measures that benefit the special interests, they exploit trade agreements to achieve a specific political outcome. From targeting a whistleblower to exacting revenge for defying the empire, statists have not been coy about their perpetual meddling in global commerce. Free trade is about an entrepreneur walking into another country, buying a thousand shirts at a dime apiece, and selling them back home for a quarter per article. The consequences of tariffs and restrictions have been well documented, but the weaponization of trade is just as harmful to businesses and consumers because it leads to the inevitable exacerbation of trade wars.
Legendary economist Ludwig von Mises wrote: “When people and goods cross borders, armies do not.” Perhaps trade is too important to be left to the politicians and bureaucrats.
Read more from Andrew Moran.