Sunday, 1 October 2017


London Publishing Partnership
October 25th 2017 * 170pp paperback *£9.99

ISBN 978-1-907994-72-2


Some 16 months ago, almost to the day, on the rise of populism, Britain voted for Brexit. Almost simultaneously, the campaign for the election of the 45th President of the United States began to tilt towards economic nationalism and anti-globalisation rhetoric. In the intervening period, the language of trade has become increasingly belligerent: since 1990 we have talked about the mutual benefits of trade, opportunities for all and the role of trade in economic development. Now politicians talk about our trading partners in the EU as ''enemies,'' the de facto ''trade war with China,'' ''protectionism,'' ''walls,'' and ''national interest.'' This linguistic metamorphosis has turned trade from a benign instrument of economic growth and development to an explicit tool of coercive foreign policy. In short, trade has been weaponized and this is dangerous for everyone working in trade or trade finance.

Trade has always been strategic in economic terms but is increasingly strategic in foreign policy terms too. This, of course, links it directly to power and influence. As we have seen over the last few months in relation to the tensions between North Korea and the United States, trade is being used as a coercive tool to achieve policy objectives. Donald Trump himself describes this in the best possible way in his tweet: ''I am very disappointed in China. Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars in trade a year yet…they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk. We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!

And in fact, it is this use of social media as tool for stating a foreign policy objective that uses rhetoric to engage people in the same agenda. Former trading partners become “enemies” and the language of war becomes commonplace in relation to trade.

There is no way of under-stating the importance of this historical juncture. Are we really seeing the “end of globalisation”? Or will the checks and balances of the multi-lateral world that we have understood for the last 30 years win over?

This book looks at how trade is weaponized. It looks at the literal weaponization using uniquely available data that allows us to see trade in dual use goods between the world and North Korea, or trade in arms across the world and its impact on political stability. It looks at how trade patterns themselves proxy well for state strategies aimed at increasing influence through coercion.

But it also looks at the figurative weaponisation: the language around trade and how this is creating a febrile atmosphere that has the potential to unite populism and economic nationalism in an escalating rhetoric that damages relations between countries. The book is a wake-up call to everyone in the sector to acknowledge that the risks of this are very high for the world. On one hand, heightened rhetoric leads to increased tensions and the danger of miscalculation on either side. On the other hand, growing antagonism towards multi-lateral and global institutions tilts the world towards bi-lateralism and trade war. Both outcomes should be avoided at all costs.

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