Our common prosperity demands cooperation on trade

Our common prosperity demands cooperation on trade

Ten years ago, the unequivocal message from G20 on rejecting trade protectionism and fostering globalization helped the world economy survive the most difficult times. After half a decade of disappointing growth, the past two years have witnessed signs of strong recovery. However, this promise is beginning to fade, even before the dark clouds disperse. This year, the International Monetary Fund has warned repeatedly against the economic wounds that result from protectionist measures. Escalation of trade tensions could reduce global gross domestic product by more than 1 percent over the next two years.

More than ever before, the world benefits from, yet is divided over, trade and openness. The international order and global and regional institutions are beginning to be questioned. These matters will be addressed by G20 leaders at the Buenos Aires summit this week.

We know that openness and cooperation are vital to improving the lives of people everywhere. We also know that they are needed to address the challenges posed by demographic pressures, climate change and new technologies. However, we must manage transitions wisely so some are not left behind or to suffer.

First, we should oppose protectionism in all its forms. Trade restrictions lead to more expensive products and fewer choices for consumers. Furthermore, protected industries will become less dynamic than their foreign competitors. Bilateral trade imbalances are a snapshot of the division of labor across economies. It is arbitrary to blame so-called unfair trade practices for global imbalances, and “corrective” measures will have little impact on a country’s overall trade deficit. Major economies must reduce barriers and resolve disagreements through dialogue instead of taking protectionist or unilateral measures, or disrupting global value chains.

Second, we should safeguard the rules-based multilateral trading system. It is unthinkable for the international order to revert to the law of the jungle. We must uphold the authority and effectiveness of the rules established by the international community, not discard them for national convenience. The World Trade Organization (WTO) is not perfect, but it embodies the multilateral trading system and serves the common interests of all its members. Any amendments to rules should go through wide consultation, ensuring equal rights and opportunities for developing countries. Any reform of the WTO must not deviate from or dilute its core values and basic principles. Issues relating to its functioning and very existence must be a priority.

We know that openness and cooperation are vital to improving the lives of people everywhere. We also know that they are needed to address the challenges posed by demographic pressures, climate change and new technologies.

Zhang Jun

Third, the benefit of trade has to be more broadly shared. Over the past 25 years, trade has leveraged new technologies to boost productivity worldwide, helped to reduce global extreme poverty by more than half, and created millions of higher paid jobs. International cooperation is indispensable; greater technological transfer between countries on mutually agreed terms will facilitate global adaptation. The protection of intellectual property rights should be an impetus rather than an obstacle for the world to enter the new industrial age.

China is neither the rule-maker nor the biggest winner from globalization, but we have been determined to follow the rules and catch up with others. In the endeavor of opening up and integrating into the world economy, China is committed to trade and investment liberalization and facilitation, while protecting the lawful rights of foreign investors. Recently, it hosted the first China International Import Expo, and will do so every year, demonstrating a firm conviction in upholding free trade and sharing common prosperity.

Henry Morgenthau said at Bretton Woods in 1944: “Prosperity, like peace, is indivisible. We cannot afford to have it scattered here or there among the fortunate or to enjoy it at the expense of others.” History tells us that trade and openness are beneficial to those who embrace them, and only by standing together can we foster a shared and better future for all our peoples. We cannot do it alone.


  • Zhang Jun is China’s Assistant Foreign Minister
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