Protectionism won’t work for Nelson

Restricting trade in fact hurts not only the community at large

The recent article on the proposed EU trade treaty appears to suggest there’s a universally held belief in City Hall that “buying local” is a good thing and something to be fought for. Proponents seem oblivious to the reality that restricting trade not only benefits mainly those who produce over-priced and inferior products, but creates barriers between people, with impact far beyond our own community.

This is not to suggest that local businesses, tradespeople, professionals and artists are incapable of world-class work — one has only to attend a few concerts, just as an example, to realize this — only that absent the competition in the market place, there is virtually no way of determining this nor the incentive to prove it. This problem is exacerbated in a smaller market where many goods and services have a single source, the quality of which is very difficult to determine in a closed market. Think Lada.

Further proof, if it is really required, of the fallacy of this thinking is a consideration of the relative wealth of countries that are open to trade. The ultimate closed country is undoubtedly North Korea, where starvation is practically a national policy. And the “open” countries? Contrary to what people often think, they are not solely, or even mostly, the resource-rich countries. They are the Singapores, the Switzerlands, the Hong Kongs, the Hollands (to say nothing of the Japans!) — countries that have had virtually no choice but to do things better.

Restricting trade in fact hurts not only the community at large, but does a great disservice to the exceptional talents among us. Aside from encouraging a culture of mediocrity here at home, building trade barriers, ironically, results in others doing likewise, with a proportionally greater impact on the talented of the community.

As bad as the economic impact of isolationism is, it is unfortunately not the only negative consequence. Just as bad is its impact on international relations and, for lack of a better term, the brotherhood of man. There is, in protectionism, an implicit “us-you” mentality that is the last thing the world needs these days. How such a view resonates so strongly with the left of centre in this country — the chief proponents of trade restrictions — is difficult to understand.

Because it affects all of the community, hopefully city council will look beyond the apparent groundswell for protectionism and open this discussion to the community.

Dave Haynes