the great return of national economic interests

Book. For Westerners, the awakening is both brutal and painful. China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in December 2001 was to consecrate the definitive victory of free trade over protectionism and, by extension, to confirm the supremacy of democracies over the authoritarian regimes.

Three decades earlier, the international lawyer Samuel Pisar (1929-2015) had also theorized – following Montesquieu’s “gentle trade” two centuries earlier -, in Weapons of Peace (Denoël, 1970), the idea that political tensions between nations were reduced by the increase in trade. The reconciliation of France and Germany through the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 – which is the cradle of the European Union of 27 – is a perfect example of this. The results of the broken dream of Mikhail Gorbachev (1931-2022), the last leader of the USSR, who tried to modernize his country through perestroika and increase trade with the West, before being ousted from power and hated by the Russians, it appears. to him as a counterexample.

Also read Article reserved for our subscribers Towards a new era of protectionism

The ace! The rise of China’s successors to Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997) completely changed the perspective. In twenty years, the Middle Kingdom has reached from the status of a poor country to the rank of second world economic power, just behind the United States. China has been able to defend its sovereignty and its internal market very effectively, resorting to protectionist measures. First the workshop of the world of manufactured products, it then took its technological delays, forcing the multinationals that wanted to settle in its territory to give up their industrial secrets. Over time, it has established itself in almost all sectors: automobile, air transport, electronic chips, etc. With the crisis linked to Covid-19, from the spring of 2020, Europe discovered, to its surprise, that its dependence was totally on China in the medical sector, especially in terms of gloves, masks and drugs.

A history through the traded trades

We would therefore be today at a great “revenge” of protectionism, whose political and social history Ali Laïdi traces the political and social history of, from Antiquity to today, in the first part of his work. He then establishes a vast historical fresco of trade through the goods exchanged on the planet (grain, sugar, cocoa, textiles, iron, oil, etc.), thus approaching the question of protectionism through a prism unusual The latter are generally called from the point of view of the economic theories of Adam Smith (1723-1790), then of the Englishman David Ricardo (1772-1823) – who conceived the theory of comparative advantage – and his opponent German Friedrich List (1789). -1846) – who favored, on the contrary, to protect infant industries.

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