By any metric, America and the world are in a bad place. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have died; millions more have overseas. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs; worse, this is a small fraction of those who have worldwide. The national and global economies have cratered, so have shipping volumes.
Statistics alone cannot convey the human tragedy of the epidemic. There is no solution at all for those who have died, and there is no easy or quick way to bounce back. However, at some point, this nightmarish virus will have run its course, and, just as there may be need to harden opposition to our adversaries, there will be new cause to cement ties with those who have stood by us.
The time has never been more ripe for America to work through a trade agreement with the United Kingdom.
A brief recap: in 2016, the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union to reassert their ability to set their own laws and conduct their own policy. This allowed them to conduct their own trade deals, a prospect that was pushed insistently by some prominent politicians in the campaign for Brexit.
In April 2019, Senator Mike Lee became the first (and so far only) national politician to push a free trade agreement with the UK, putting forth a resolution and declaring on the Senate floor that “such an agreement would advance prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic as an engine of economic liberty…In fact, most Americans would probably be surprised to find out that we don’t already have a free trade agreement with our friends across the pond.” He couched a US-UK trade agreement in foreign-relations terms, citing our “special relationship” through the World Wars and the Cold War. He pushed back on critical legislators who said that this constituted picking sides by reminding them that the people of the United Kingdom “have decided to stand on their own.”
A year and a half later, this is all the more true; a withdrawal plan has been signed, the Union Jack has been lowered in Brussels, and Brexit has reached completion. Free trade agreements expand economic opportunity, but a free trade agreement with a partner and ally like the UK is an important show of solidarity with, and recognition of, our special relationship.
This is not to say that free trade is always appropriate, that it is ever universally beneficial, or that its opponents are just a bunch of backwards-looking ignoramuses. Freer trade has made a lot of people and places better off than they were 20 years ago, but factory towns in the Rust Belt don’t often number among them. While some factories have automated, others have picked up their operations and moved abroad, to adversaries like China as well as friendlier nations like Mexico. Some people, even if it’s not most, really have gotten a bum deal out of liberalizing trade policies. Additionally, the coronavirus pandemic has exposed the deep dependence Americans have on Chinese supply chains, which have the potential to be a major liability as we deal with Beijing on issues from despotism within their borders to aggression around the world. A look inward at the domestic economy can be healthy.
However, even for those with protectionist inclinations, do these really apply to the United Kingdom? It’s natural to worry about putting American workers in competition with those in low-wage, industrializing countries that are the beneficiaries of structural, substantial trade deficits. Adversaries like China fit that description, so do friendlier nations such as Guatemala, Mexico and India. On the other hand, the United Kingdom is a fundamentally different economy. They are not an industrializing nation; their manufacturing sector accounted for 20.2% of their GDP in 2017, almost identical to our own, which stood at 19.1%. As of 2018, we enjoyed a modest trade surplus with them, in goods as well as services.
As Senator Lee said in his brief but eloquent address, “America’s special relationship with the U.K. is special because we make it so. Our two peoples, our two governments.” Our partnership has yielded great things in the past; it enables the livelihoods of millions of people in both countries. It’s time to make it stronger still.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.