It isn’t just the manifest – and substantial - benefits accruing from free trade that should concern us but the realisation that trade builds partnerships, connections, shared interests and, dare I say it, peace. Trade depends on mutual advantage rather than exploitation or seizure and the fact that the thing I buy is valued more by me than it is by you increases the size of human wealth and happiness. And in that added value comes profits – the profit that allows for the promotion of human progress, for the investment in discovery and the exploration of our world’s boundaries. Without trade that progress is no more.
Surely then our governments should seek the most beneficial and advantageous trade arrangements? Surely, the advantages – social and economic – of free trade are such that its promotion should be top of the world’s agenda? Sadly not. Producer interests – those who would seek profit in a way that disadvantages the consumer – have captured too much of government. We pour vast millions of taxes in agricultural subsidy, we set up special protections preventing a nice lady in North Yorkshire from making feta cheese or the butcher round the corner from curing parma ham, we prattle on about patronising managed trade systems dubbed “fair trade” and we think it right to give huge bungs to basic industries just to buy a few votes. All these acts are at the expense of consumers – they represent a hidden tax in the form of less supply and higher prices.
So I look at this tin of tea (and I love that it’s in a tin too) and think of all the connections, the jobs and above everything the wealth that flows from a plantation in Ceylon to a shop in Burmantofts. Plus of course my pleasure on a Sunday morning.