Free trade is defined in this book as countries’ ability to sell goods and services to each other without restrictions or the imposition of tariffs. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is the forum which was set up in 1994 to host negotiations on the freeing of world-wide trade. It describes itself on its website as “the international organization whose primary purpose is to open trade for the benefit of all”. It prevents countries from setting new tariffs that exceed agreed limits, or from banning imports – although it does allow exceptions on grounds of national security and health. It has ruled on numerous trade disputes, as in examples listed in the BBC Timeline: World Trade Organization.
Despite the agreements reached in the WTO, free trade remains a contested issue. Some people are enthusiastic advocates for free trade: An Economist magazine article on 6 September 2013, for example, explored the question Why did The Economist favour free trade? Other people bewail the changes wrought by globalisation: the resulting movement of jobs. Many seem to have accepted the argument that free trade has brought unprecedented prosperity to the world, yet they argue for some selected industries to be ‘protected’.
The following sub-sections cover the arguments for free trade (18.104.22.168), the issues raised by selective protectionism (22.214.171.124), the argument that competition from some countries is ‘unfair’ (126.96.36.199), the overall impact of globalisation on jobs and wages (188.8.131.52), and the fluid situation on free trade agreements (184.108.40.206).