There is a clear divide among Debating Europe commenters between those of you that support globalization as a wealth-creating march toward utopia and those that oppose it as an environment-munching descent into neo-feudalism. That’s an over-simplification, and the views on display are (usually) more nuanced, but whether we are discussing immigration, free trade or banking, the division in the comments is there.
Yesterday, we discussed questions of trade, industry and protectionism in Europe. One of our commenters from Italy, Vicente, had suggested that the EU should do more to protect its remaining industries from competition overseas, particularly when labour and environmental standards were lower. In response, Paul made an excellent point:
I do not see how tougher protectionism will boost exports? […] If you place tariffs on goods from outside the EU then the external countries will do the same and exports will suffer. I keep hearing that the EU wants to be a global player. Quite how such an inward-looking strategy fits with that ideal, I do not know
This is also the standard response from most mainstream economists, and the orthodox view is that increased protectionism in the 1930s was one of the contributing factors to the Great Depression. However, some of our commenters argue that free trade and competition with the rest of the world could, nonetheless, be better moderated and balanced. Guisan, for example, sent us the following comment:
Europe needs more balanced trade with the rest of the world, and EU policies should be changed in order to avoid high trade deficits and a negative current account balance. More fair trade is not the same as more free trade. Fair trade does not destroy industry, nor generate unsustainable trade deficits. The European Union should improve its policies in this regard.
To get a reaction, we took Guisan’s comment to David Martin, a Scottish Labour MEP with the centre-left Social Democrats, and a prominent member of the European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade. How would he respond?
We have also had some commenters argue that globalization is exploitative of developing countries, and Europe should therefore refuse to import products that are produced in countries with poor labour standards. Theodoros, for example, sent us in the following:
Europe is obliged… to make sure that [products from] child workforces, or slave-labour workforces, or underpaid workforces are never again seen in EU markets from states like Vietnam, China or India. It is our duty to take all the appropriate anti-dumping measure for the sake of humanitarianism.
There are an estimated 250 million child workers between the age of 5 and 14 globally, and 61% of these are found in Asia. The vast majority of child workers, however, are employed by their own families on rural farms, and the EU continues to maintain high tariffs (not to mention subsidies) in agriculture. Would protectionist measures really be effective in preventing child labour? And, as for lower wages in developing countries, does this really justify the use of anti-dumping measures? What did David Martin think?
Finally, Christoforos from Greece sent us a video question, asking how the EU can avoid a repeat of the Bangladesh factory collapse that cost over 1000 lives earlier this year. If restricting imports is not the solution, then is there anything else that European countries can do to promote better industrial safety in developing countries to avoid similar tragedies?