World trade increases prosperity and at the same time depletes the gap between rich and poor in the world! This criticism, frequently raised by opponents of globalization, may at first astonish us, for it was precisely world trade which in the past brought enormous wealth to the peoples involved. Let us think For example, to the Hanseatic League and to trading houses such as the Fuggers, which dominated European and medieval trade during the Middle Ages and early modern times and brought forth rich trading cities, or to the time of the Industrial Revolution, when free trade was only a cure ¬ze phase contributed significantly to the economic upturn in industrialized countries.
And today? Are not we all benefiting from the exports of industrial goods, which secure numerous jobs, or from cheap imports of consumer goods, which make our lives more valuable?
Is the above criticism unjustified? To answer this question, we first have to take a look at the development of the world trade and its structure today.
Apart from the early beginnings in the middle ages (exchange of spices, frankincense, precious metals or silk between China, pre-Asia and the Mediterranean) as well as the mentioned long-distance trade relations of the Fugger and the Hanseatic League, an earth-wrenching world trading space has only begun more developed in the 19th century. The triggering factors were economic liberalism, which replaced the phase of mercantilism, the Industrial Revolution, whose main result is the alleviation of mass poverty in Europe, as well as various large-scale technical projects, such as. As the construction of the Suez Canal (1859 – 1869), and the new means of transport railway and steamship, with which the industrial goods could be transported quickly and inexpensively.
After interruptions from the First World War, the Great Depression of the 1930s Mercantilism and the Second World War, the volume of world trade has increased continuously. Reasons are the strong population growth, the increased demand for raw materials and energy, the worldwide increase of industrial production, the expansion of the product range as well as the increasing demand of the consumers.
In the goods sector, the formerly dominant agricultural trade has shrunk from approximately 50% in 1950 to around 8%. The trade in unprocessed raw materials, which is dominated by crude oil and natural gas, also declined in the 1980s as a result of the two oil crises in 1973/74 and 1980 and has since stabilized at around 15% of global trade in goods. Industrial products currently account for about three-quarters of the exported goods (in terms of value of goods), with machinery and vehicles clearly in the lead. Within the industrial goods trade, however, shows a shift in weight. The higher the technology, the stronger the growth. Above average increases can be recorded above all goods of the information and communication technology. This is true not only for the industrialized countries. The export of technology-intensive products is also growing strongly in developing and emerging countries. Eastern and Southeast Asian states are among the winners.
A second fact characterizes the structure of international trade: “Classic” foreign trade in goods has been increasingly supplemented by trade in services in recent years. Since 1980, it has grown almost five times, much more than the world merchandise trade. Here the technical innovations mentioned above clearly make a difference. So can be z. Today, for example, entire corporate functions (such as research and development, but also simple administration and services) can be carried out in different countries. The value chains are split, functional networks form.
Regional consolidation. With the exception of Africa, all the major regions of the world have a share in the growth of world trade. However, it does contain the fact that there are strong regional differences. The major regions of Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific, the so-called Triad, dominate the world market with a share of around 75%. At present, only about 40% of all world exports are accounted for by the EU member states. The exchange with the “rest of the world” has increased in recent times, but to a lesser extent than between the members of the triad.
The highest growth rates in foreign trade are now recorded in China. In 2008, the country is in first place in terms of global exports and imports, thus overtaking Germany, the USA and other industrialized countries such as Japan, France and Great Britain. The emerging economies of East and Southeast Asia, which today account for around 20% of world exports, also posted strong growth.
After a short period of stagnation in the transition countries of Eastern Europe, an upturn can be seen in the early phase of their transition to market-based structures. The new EU members, in particular, have increasingly been integrated into the global economy thanks to intensified trade relations.
In contrast, all other regions are almost meaningless, with the exception of the exporters of raw materials Mexico, Australia, Russia and Saudi Arabia, which benefit from higher commodity prices.
The poorest and least developed countries (LDCs) account for less than two percent of world trade. The chances of improving their position in world trade are generally seen as extremely low. This is especially true of most sub-Saharan Africa. They clearly belong to the losers of the world-wide liberalization processes.
Despite liberalization, problems continue
“Increasingly, free trade in the world is hindered by the formation of economic blocs and free trade areas, ie by regionalization tendencies, as well as by state protectionism. Free trade zones, economic and customs unions such. For example, the EU in Europe, NAFTA in North America, Mercusor in Latin America, ASEAN in Southeast Asia, or SACU in South Africa, while promoting the integration of their members and intra-Union trade, have a discriminatory effect on third countries with unrestricted market access is blocked. “
Protectionism. Especially in agricultural trade, many countries continue to protect their markets through tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade. To prevent z. For example, protectionist aggravate market regimes in industrialized countries, especially in the EU and US, imply the importation of agricultural products from developing countries, while industrialized countries restrict their industry from the competition of cheaper producing development and production Protect emerging countries, eg. For example, to get jobs. As a result, developing countries are losing revenue that they urgently need to finance development projects. In principle, this seriously violates the principles of the GATT and the WTO.
The situation is exacerbated by the fact that many countries are trying to use subsidies and tax concessions to gain advantages for their own goods in international competition. However, this not only affects trade relations between the industrialized and developing countries, but also trade between the industrialized countries themselves, such as: a. the now ongoing dispute between the US and the EU in agricultural trade.