Charles Moore Charles Moore

The Spectator’s notes | 3 March 2016

Also in The Spectator’s Notes: the significance of 23 June; why ‘leave’ can’t have a plan; The Simpsons and President Trump

The government, or at least David Cameron’s bit of it, seems to think that trade is something that takes place because of a trade agreement. The order is the other way round. People trade, and have done for several thousand years, because it is to their mutual advantage. After a bit, governments come along and try to direct and often impede it, but in the modern world of instant communications, ready transfers of money and container shipping, this has become blessedly difficult. A friend, Edward Atkin, who has made a large fortune out of Avent baby bottles and like products, tells me: ‘I have never known or asked whether any of our customers in over 80 markets was trading in a country with or without a trade agreement with the EU. We exported 80 per cent of our output. Most of the world’s leading exporting countries (Japan, South Korea and the US) have no such trade agreements with the EU. This does not matter because the WTO forbids high duties and limiting conditions.’ Often, indeed, barriers to trade come for reasons other than tariffs. The US is a true single market internally. The EU is not, although it is a tariff-free zone. Small differences (for example, in the design of electric plugs) are deliberately inserted by member states: ‘Our baby products,’ Atkin goes on, ‘had to be designed for local requirements, like the French needing a 300cc bottle, while every other market wanted just a 250cc one.’ I believe that regulations in some member states are specifically — though not, of course, declaredly — designed to keep out JCB, Dyson etc. The government’s bloodcurdling propaganda document warns that if we vote to leave, negotiations will take ten years. I don’t believe it, but if it were true, it would not be much different from what happens if we stay in.

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