Should the West stop trading with bad actor nations?

We have been repeatedly told, especially by neo-liberal, neo-conservative, and libertarian proponents, that we need to knock down barriers to trade as we seek as much free trade as possible with all players.  Part of why this is said is because it will help existing authoritarian, totalitarian, and corrupt nations transition toward greater liberty and better treatment of their people, as well as reduce potential hostility to other nations.

We are already beginning to see the consequences of this naïve view.

Firstly, are these nations necessarily treating their people better because of this greater degree of freer trade?  Using China as an example, although for some time it appeared as if China was losing its grip on its people, allowing a greater degree of freedom, the increasing crackdown on religious freedom, as well as the recently unveiled social credit system, suggests otherwise.  If freer trade was supposed to improve upon such things, why is it not happening now?

Free trade is also considered a tool to reduce global and regional hostility.  Concerns over what led to the Second World War have been pushed as to why we should not put up trade barriers.  But have we really stopped this problem or merely delayed it (and weakened ourselves in the meantime)?  China has grown ever more powerful as it trades its goods to the West while not always providing the same level of trade access to its own economy.  Through this, the Chinese have enriched themselves, enhanced their technological standing, and grown their military power.  In addition, they have used their newly found economic prowess to become the most aggressive economic colonizer in the world, especially (though not exclusively) in Africa, and have been often cited as a bad actor in relation to economic espionage.

With this greater economic and military power, China has begun to leverage its position in the world, especially regionally.  It has also weakened the industrial position of nations like the U.S., who have seen cheaper, frequently lower-grade products flood their markets, leaving the domestic industries floundering and their populations and governments less amenable to China as a trading partner.  (To be fair, there are other factors involved, but to say this isn't an ingredient would be unreasonable.)  To say all this will not lead to eventual hostile actions is naïve and ignorant of the past.

China is the prime but not the only example.  Other "bad actors" could be pointed to, such as Saudi Arabia with its well known human rights abuses and support of terrorist-oriented Wahhabism.

Should we trade with such nations or, at the very least, consider curtailing our trade, especially when we know full well they are taking advantage of the conditions of any such trade to benefit themselves at our ultimate expense?  Although, as a rule, I do not believe that tariffs are the answer, it should be noted that they have been used to great effect during the rise of all Western nations.  Indeed, as much as we speak of abolishing them in our current trade agreements, such has practically never been done.  They exist today, though often better hidden.

Perhaps a more realist approach is needed: to enhance trade with "good actor" nations, including reduced tariffs, while using tariffs and other measures to ensure a more arm's-length approach in trade relations with "bad actor" nations.  Western nations, along with more similarly minded nations such as Japan and South Korea, should create a stronger economic bloc, with other nations kept more at bay (if not completely cut off) until clear signs of real, positive change are visible, whereupon trade policy could be re-evaluated.

For far too long, we have played a truly naïve game that assumed that all nations are fundamentally the same, without appreciating that such cultural relativism has little to no foundation in reality.

Cam is a married father of three.  He currently lives on the left coast of his native Canada, notorious for its milder winters and consistent levels of liberal thinking.  He's a university educated educator, blogger, former generally indifferent employee within the financial sector, and failed musician.  A Christian, of what has usually been termed politically conservative leanings, he prefers to be labeled a realist at this time, mostly for lack of a better term, as too often conservatives have been little more than slow-motion liberals.

We have been repeatedly told, especially by neo-liberal, neo-conservative, and libertarian proponents, that we need to knock down barriers to trade as we seek as much free trade as possible with all players.  Part of why this is said is because it will help existing authoritarian, totalitarian, and corrupt nations transition toward greater liberty and better treatment of their people, as well as reduce potential hostility to other nations.

We are already beginning to see the consequences of this naïve view.

Firstly, are these nations necessarily treating their people better because of this greater degree of freer trade?  Using China as an example, although for some time it appeared as if China was losing its grip on its people, allowing a greater degree of freedom, the increasing crackdown on religious freedom, as well as the recently unveiled social credit system, suggests otherwise.  If freer trade was supposed to improve upon such things, why is it not happening now?

Free trade is also considered a tool to reduce global and regional hostility.  Concerns over what led to the Second World War have been pushed as to why we should not put up trade barriers.  But have we really stopped this problem or merely delayed it (and weakened ourselves in the meantime)?  China has grown ever more powerful as it trades its goods to the West while not always providing the same level of trade access to its own economy.  Through this, the Chinese have enriched themselves, enhanced their technological standing, and grown their military power.  In addition, they have used their newly found economic prowess to become the most aggressive economic colonizer in the world, especially (though not exclusively) in Africa, and have been often cited as a bad actor in relation to economic espionage.

With this greater economic and military power, China has begun to leverage its position in the world, especially regionally.  It has also weakened the industrial position of nations like the U.S., who have seen cheaper, frequently lower-grade products flood their markets, leaving the domestic industries floundering and their populations and governments less amenable to China as a trading partner.  (To be fair, there are other factors involved, but to say this isn't an ingredient would be unreasonable.)  To say all this will not lead to eventual hostile actions is naïve and ignorant of the past.

China is the prime but not the only example.  Other "bad actors" could be pointed to, such as Saudi Arabia with its well known human rights abuses and support of terrorist-oriented Wahhabism.

Should we trade with such nations or, at the very least, consider curtailing our trade, especially when we know full well they are taking advantage of the conditions of any such trade to benefit themselves at our ultimate expense?  Although, as a rule, I do not believe that tariffs are the answer, it should be noted that they have been used to great effect during the rise of all Western nations.  Indeed, as much as we speak of abolishing them in our current trade agreements, such has practically never been done.  They exist today, though often better hidden.

Perhaps a more realist approach is needed: to enhance trade with "good actor" nations, including reduced tariffs, while using tariffs and other measures to ensure a more arm's-length approach in trade relations with "bad actor" nations.  Western nations, along with more similarly minded nations such as Japan and South Korea, should create a stronger economic bloc, with other nations kept more at bay (if not completely cut off) until clear signs of real, positive change are visible, whereupon trade policy could be re-evaluated.

For far too long, we have played a truly naïve game that assumed that all nations are fundamentally the same, without appreciating that such cultural relativism has little to no foundation in reality.

Cam is a married father of three.  He currently lives on the left coast of his native Canada, notorious for its milder winters and consistent levels of liberal thinking.  He's a university educated educator, blogger, former generally indifferent employee within the financial sector, and failed musician.  A Christian, of what has usually been termed politically conservative leanings, he prefers to be labeled a realist at this time, mostly for lack of a better term, as too often conservatives have been little more than slow-motion liberals.