Enemies of free trade must not be allowed to use Coronavirus to bring back protectionism - Joint Op-Ed in the Telegraph

It is crucial that the battle to save lives from coronavirus is coupled with long-term efforts to protect livelihoods and ways of life.

Advances in health, technology and knowledge have added 25 years to global life expectancies since 1950.

More than one billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty in the past 20 years. People around the world have been leading longer and better lives. These social advances have been underpinned by the opening of markets and growth in trade around the world.

Open trade has allowed innovation to flourish while the use of comparative advantage has lifted productivity. It has created jobs and allowed goods or services to reach those who need them in the most cost-effective ways.

Trade is essential at the best of times. Our pre-coronavirus daily routine was made possible by deep trade routes, supplying individuals with a mix including food, drink, technology and clothing. Businesses rely on trade to supply critical inputs as part of value chains, essential services and crucial investment.

Our daily routine may have changed for now but continued, free-flowing trade plays a key role in crises such as these by getting vital supplies where they are most needed.

No country is entirely self-sufficient in vital medicines, medical supplies and equipment, let alone agricultural products or other essential goods and services that  ow across borders.

For this reason, we welcomed the statement of the G20 trade ministers on coronavirus, which underlined the imperative of countries acting in concert, rather than isolation, in order to overcome a common enemy that ignores national boundaries. To combat a global problem necessitates a global response. If countries are to emerge from this successfully, it will require more co-operation, not less.

We agree on the importance of refraining from the imposition of unnecessary export controls or tariffs and of removing any existing trade restrictive measures on essential goods, especially food and medical supplies at this time. Such policies will only harm the response to the virus, and any measures that are necessary on public health grounds should be transparent, time-limited and proportionate. We are also committed to ensuring that critical infrastructure, such as our air and sea ports, remains open to support the viability and integrity of supply chains globally.

Now we need to go further.

Some people think this crisis should mean less trade in the future, and onshoring of supply chains. Some argue for a rolling back of the trade liberalisation that has underpinned much of the world’s economic growth. Increased protectionism would only harm the world’s recovery.

While there can be good reasons for targeted reshoring of truly essential capabilities, we should not let those who would undo decades of progress take advantage of the crisis. Sharing challenges and diversifying where we buy from and sell to can make us all more resilient.

Putting in place more trade barriers would further erode business confidence and slow the investment needed to restart many economies. Developing countries, who have often seen the greatest transformation from opening up, might find themselves shut out of world markets, reducing prosperity and employment.

We resolve to lead the world in restoring and deepening global trade. Just as the shared calamity of the Second World War compelled nations to negotiate the settlement at Bretton Woods, so too should this outbreak lead us to deepen our commitment to shared rules for the governance of global trade and investment.

We will work to reform the World Trade Organisation by modernising its rules, improving its transparency and making more efficient its settlement of disputes. We will urge countries of the world to stand still on trade barriers and, ideally, agree to roll them back.

And we will press ahead with our various trade negotiations, seeking to open up new opportunities. We see the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the UK is seeking to join, as a key part of promoting a liberal free-trading global agenda.

Through our co-operation we hope to provide leadership and build confidence. Most importantly, we aim to ensure our counterparts around the world remember the economic and social benefits delivered by open, rules-based trade prior to the current crisis and join us in continuing policies to enhance lives and livelihoods when the crisis has passed.

Co-authored by Liz Truss, UK Secretary of State for International Trade; Simon Birmingham, Australia’s trade minister; David Parker, New Zealand’s trade minister; Chan Chun Sing, Singapore’s minister for trade.