Asean or EU, trade deals are harder than tariffs: but complete sovereignty is a myth

  • There are never two completely equal partners in trade, but the alternative is much worse
PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 November, 2018, 1:00pm
UPDATED : Friday, 30 November, 2018, 1:00pm

An old Russian fable explains protectionism perfectly: a fox invites a stork to dinner and serves it on a plate, with his guest being unable to eat it with his beak; and then the stork pays the fox back in his own coin and serves him a dinner in a jug, with his guest being unable eat it with his muzzle.

As the US resorts to a policy of protectionism, it is little wonder that China can’t simply stop it (“Asian mega free-trade deal stalls in Singapore despite China’s push against protectionism”, November 13), as signing a free-trade deal, unlike slapping a tariff, involves negotiations with whiffling partners.

Things are bound to come to a head if they include India, the world’s largest democracy, soon to become No 1 among all countries by population, whose national flag features a spinning wheel symbolising self-reliance in manufacturing clothing. And these days very few nations can stay self-reliant when competing with Chinese firms.

No resolution, no problem: Apec wants more trade and growth

Being equal partners on paper, be it for the Asean members or the EU, rarely means that in reality. In fact, never: I visited both London and Warsaw to see that the number of the Poles wishing to live in the UK was much greater than that of the Britons wishing to live in Poland. Hence Brexit.

Protectionism supreme is autarky, or sovereignty. However, as Sir John Major, the former British prime minister, had told “leave” campaigners: those who want undiluted sovereignty should “go to North Korea”, with its “splendid isolation”. Hardly a feasible proposition.   

Mergen Mongush, Moscow