UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi has defended international trade as the best means for developing countries to create jobs and tackle inequality in an article published in The Guardian newspaper on 23 November.
Trade deals became a hot topic in the United States presidential election earlier in the month with president-elect Donald Trump vowing to withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership on the first day of his presidency. Earlier in 2016 the United Kingdom voted to withdraw from the European Union on as-yet unclear trade terms.
Dr. Kituyi said that while politicians in the global north may be “getting cold feet” on trade, poorer countries have no choice but to deepen trade relationships.
“As an ex-politician myself, I know that politicians must do a better, more honest job of discussing the costs and benefits of trade,” said Dr. Kituyi, who before becoming UNCTAD Secretary-General served as trade minister in Kenya. “Too often in the global north, leaders, dictated by electoral needs, talk down trade, storing up problems for the future.”
“To blame trade for job losses is to use a convenient scapegoat, but it ignores both the benefits of trade and the disruptive nature of technology,” he said. “Trade does not explain the relative decline in labour productivity. Nor does it account for the erosion in social protection.”
What trade does do, Dr. Kituyi said, is provide the jobs required by rising populations in developing countries. That is why developing countries are backing new, internationally integrative projects like Africa’s Continental Free Trade Area and China’s One Belt, One Road initiative.
However, Dr. Kituyi said, changing trade patterns are disruptive. He said policymakers must address the effects of change to protect the ultimate benefits of trade.
“At the international level, trade deals need social and environmental safeguards,” he said. “Competition policy and consumer protection can help to defend small businesses against the excesses of corporate power.”
Dr. Kituyi concluded: “The nature of trade is changing, shifting to services, to developing countries, and to more being done online. But it is always going to generate jobs. And this is an urgent priority for any sensible politician.”