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Speech by Secretary of State for International Trade, Dr Liam Fox at SuperReturn International Private Equity conference in Berlin.
It is a pleasure to be here today to address the SuperReturn Conference, and so many leading representatives of the Private Equity Industry.
We meet in a climate of growing adversity for global trade and commerce, yet it is a subject that seldom gets the attention it deserves.
I hope today to offer plenty of hope and optimism but it would not be responsible to paint only a partial picture.
The fact remains, that for the first time in decades, the established order of fair, free and open global trade, which has done so much to enrich and empower the world’s nations, is under threat.
Between 1985 and 2007, global trade volumes increased dramatically, growing at around twice the rate of GDP.
Since 2012 they have barely kept pace.
Perhaps most significantly, in September last year, the World Trade Organisation downgraded their forecast for global growth in the trade in goods from 2.8% in 2016 to just 1.7% this year.
This is an implicit prediction that, for the first time this century, trade will grow more slowly than GDP.
These predictions would be concerning on their own, but they come at a time when an undercurrent of protectionism is once again beginning to tug at global commerce.
Across the world, barriers to trade are going up and the G7 and G20 are some of the worst culprits when it comes to non-tariff barriers and market access restriction.
Each day, the challenges facing businesses - like yours - who wish to buy, sell and invest freely across the world - are rising.
The WTO, in response, has issued a call to its member states to resist protectionism and ‘get trade moving again’.
It may seem amazing to us that free trade as a concept should face so much opposition.
In recent decades, the liberalisation of Asia’s major economies in particular, has seen millions lifted from poverty.
We have taken more people out of abject poverty in the last 25 years than in all of human history combined.
In western countries, imports and technological advances driven by global competition have seen living standards climb higher than ever before.
And yet, we find the rhetoric of protectionism creeping once more into political and economic debate across the world.
In 1824, the British statesman Thomas Babington Macaulay said that:
“Free trade, one of the greatest blessings which a government can confer on its people, is in almost every country unpopular.”
2 centuries on, his observation is as pertinent as it was then.
It is clear that now, more than ever, free trade needs a champion.