Around the world there is movement to improve levels of trade and to ease formalities in order to make multilateral commerce simpler, less costly and beneficial to all participants. Naturally, individual countries want to protect their particular specialities while continuing to profit from their attraction (think French wine and Scotch whisky, for example), but negotiations can solve such problems, and it is apparent that more and more countries are prepared to engage in dialogue rather than flouncing away from compromise.
Except, most notably, the US and Britain which seem to consider that concession in negotiations is in some fashion weak and inescapably detrimental to their national interests. The UK is estranging itself, quite voluntarily, and even enthusiastically from its best trading partner, the European Union, in a fit of immature nationalistic pride which wasn’t called ‘Make Britain Great Again’, as it might well have been, but “Take Back Control”, which was much the same thing in its absurdity. The British government, in this pandemic time of financial crisis in which it refused to provide midday meals to poor children, is embarking on vastly expensive expansion of its navy in order, as its prime minister declared, to “restore Britain’s position as the foremost naval power in Europe”, which isn’t going to contribute in the slightest way to economic advancement.
The United States has distanced itself from several major trading partners, dissolving ties that had existed for many years and disadvantaging countless commercial enterprises for tiny localised economic gain. Washington’s obsession with imposing economic sanctions has resulted in destruction of trade between sanctioned countries and former commercial partners who have nothing whatever to do with the dispute, and led to increase in distrust of a formerly reliable ally.
In wider terms, the Federation of German Industries noted in an analysis that “with his ‘America First’ policy, U.S. President Donald Trump is increasingly undermining international trade law. And that comes with huge costs not only for its trading partners but also for the United States itself.” But Trump does not care what costs there are, in commercial and diplomatic terms, providing his supporters are given the impression of an ascendant United States. President-elect Biden is far from being equally ultra-nationalistic, but nonetheless can be expected to trade warily. Confrontation is attractive, and it remains to be seen what he will do when presented with circumstances in which it may seem easier and domestically more appealing to thump the table rather than talk across it.
In other parts of the world, trade is assuming greater importance in forging closer relations in addition to economically benefitting those taking part. It was reported by China’s Global Times, for example (although in no mainstream western media), that on 17 November “at the seventh meeting of the China-Russia Investment Cooperation Committee co-chaired by Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng and Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov… China and Russia… reviewed their investment cooperation progress and agreed to make efforts to overcome the impact of COVID-19 pandemic and facilitate the resumption of work and production in bilateral investment cooperation to yield more practical achievements.” In other words, progress, albeit modest, is being made in Sino-Russia economic cooperation, and it can be expected that this will extend in due course, much to the vexation of Washington which has a bipartisan political approach only to confrontational opportunities.
The anti-Russia blight that descended on Trump Washington can be expected to continue and even increase in intensity. As the U.S. continues to interfere in the internal affairs of countless countries, reports of the Senate’s bipartisan anti-Russia declaration included observations such as that from Republican Senator Gardner who believes that “Putin’s Russia is an outlaw regime that is hell-bent on undermining international law and destroying the U.S.-led liberal global order,” which would be amusing were it not apparent that he really believes it. And Democratic Senator Cardin chimed in to declare that “at least one branch of government fully understands the need to further protect our country and our allies from a Kremlin that shows no sign of abiding by or respecting international norms.”
There is not a whiff of compromise (or common sense) there, or across the Congress as a whole, and it looks as if there is no possibility of any in the future. The US has cast Russia aside as a trading partner, and Biden is bound fast to the anti-Russia bandwagon. It is probable he will willingly go with the flow in Washington as a whole, in which the Congress, the Pentagon and the arms industry seek to intensify the military build-up round Russia’s borders.
The same holds for U.S. policy on China, against which there is a bipartisan approach in favour of military confrontation rather than trade cooperation.
In November, according to the BBC, “fifteen Asia-Pacific countries formed the world’s largest trading bloc.” They were the ten members of ASEAN, the Association of South East Asian Nations — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam — together with South Korea, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. This is a mighty coalition, known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and it didn’t happen overnight.
China’s Premier Li noted that “Under the current global circumstances, the fact the RCEP has been signed after eight years of negotiations brings a ray of light and hope amid the clouds,” and it is hoped the partnership will expand in due course, especially as “members of the RCEP make up nearly a third of the world’s population and account for 29% of global gross domestic product. The new free trade bloc will be bigger than both the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement and the European Union.” Prosperity looms for participating nations, and it is coming about because of peaceful compromise and negotiation rather than aggressive hostility — and it was ironic that on the day of agreement there was an example of further military provocation by Washington.
It was reported that on 17 November, “two US B-1B Lancer bombers… entered China’s air defence identification zone over the East China Sea. The US regularly conducts surveillance flights in the region using military spy planes. Sending B-1B bombers close to China’s coast is likely a show of force meant to send a message to Beijing.” Of course it was. And it could hardly be more ironic that the gauntlet of challenge was thrown down at the very moment China was demonstrating to the nations of the region that it was most actively seeking trade cooperation. Two days later the U.S. Army officially opened its new “forward headquarters” in Poland, “to provide more support to an expanding Army mission in Europe.”
Trump Washington is intent on expanding its military bootprint around the world, specifically against Russia and China. And Biden is likely to continue the policy of hostility. Forget trade: the name of the game is Confrontation.