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Chinese consumers queue for GE-Free produce and information being distributed by Greenpeace at a Guangzhou supermarket.

What is free trade?

The act of opening up economies is known as "free trade" or "trade liberalisation." It usually benefits the larger, wealthier countries whose big companies are looking to expand and sell their goods abroad. In the one sector where developing countries have the most to gain - agricultural goods - wealthier countries maintain the highest level of "protection" of their own markets.

Globalisation has made the world a much smaller place. Global trade refers to the act of buying and selling goods and services between countries. Today these goods and services can travel further and faster so that - for instance - products from all over the world can be found at your corner shop. This can be anything from fruits and vegetables, to cars, banking services, clothing, and bottled water.

The scale and pace of this kind of trade has only increased over time, and has become a very powerful tool. International trade is considered a prime driver of how well a country develops, and affects very much how well the economies of different countries are doing.

Free Trade - who is paying the price

The act of opening up economies is known as "free trade" or "trade liberalisation." Trade liberalisation means opening up markets by bringing down trade barriers such as tariffs. Doing this allows goods and services from everywhere to compete with domestic products and services.

But in practice the set-up of global trade rules and the way these are administered by the World Trade Organisation, works best for those countries who are already rich, and increases the gap between them and poorer countries who are already struggling to compete.

When trade is a weapon - tariffs and subsidies

Part of the problem is that trade is not always equal. It is not just a tool - it can also be a weapon. When countries put restrictions, such as tariffs, on goods from other countries, imported goods become more expensive and less competitive than goods from their own country.

Another thing that can be done is subsidising domestic businesses. This means that governments give money or other forms of support to local or domestic businesses, to make sure that they are cheaper over imported products and services. This can allow unsuccessful and inefficient businesses to do well, since they receive all kinds of government support. And while these businesses continue to grow, smaller or local producers, especially in many poorer countries - those that need support the most - are being destroyed.

Any measure like this is called "protectionist," since it has the effect of closing off a country's markets to goods from other countries. Many wealthy countries in Europe, as well as the US and Japan use these tactics to support their own domestic economies, making it impossible for smaller, or less developed countries to gain a foothold in the global marketplace.

As they go about protecting and closing off their own markets, many of these very same countries are creating double standards, by forcing other countries to open up their markets.

The latest updates


Sodruzhestvo GE free company statement

Publication | 23 November, 2006 at 10:49

Sodruzhestvo, the biggest soya importer in Russia, which supplies 70% of all soya used in the Russian food and feed industry, has stated that it will turn its new factory currently under construction in Kaliningrad into a GE free zone.

Deadly Subsidies

Publication | 31 May, 2006 at 2:00

How government subsidies are destroying the oceans and forests and why the CBD rather than the WTO should stop this peverse use of public money.

Joint Declaration on Implementing Urgent Global Solutions

Publication | 11 December, 2005 at 1:00

Shipbreaking yards provide the last resting place for End of Life Ships. At these yards, ships are scrapped, primarily for their steel content. Ship scrapping, often referred to as ’shipbreaking’, provides employment to thousands of workers in...

WTO Hong Kong 2005 Position

Publication | 2 December, 2005 at 1:00

The 6th WTO Ministerial Conference is set to take place in Hong Kong, China from the 13th to 18th of December 2005. After the collapse of the last Ministerial meeting in Cancun in 2003, governments aim to ensure at Hong Kong, that the “Doha...

The NAMA Drama

Publication | 2 December, 2005 at 1:00

Improved market access at the cost of the environment: the environmental risks of the NAMA negotiations. The liberalization of markets driven by the World Trade Organization (WTO) makes it difficult at both the national and international levels...

Trading away our last ancient forests

Publication | 2 December, 2005 at 1:00

The threats to forests from trade liberalization under the WTOVast tracts of ancient forest around the world stand on the brink of extinction. 10 million hectares are vanishing every year, or a soccer pitch every two seconds. This updated study...

Is the WTO the only way?

Publication | 2 December, 2005 at 1:00

This briefing paper addresses the need to secure a safe political and legal space for the environment and outlines a number of alternative approaches, which would enable governments to move the current negotiations on the relationship between...

Where are the Pacific tuna?

Feature story | 30 August, 2004 at 2:00

We thought the Western and Central Pacific tuna fishery was the last healthy tuna fishery in the world. Despite concerns about over-fishing due to the rapid expansion of the industrial fleets, the conventional wisdom was that the fishery was...

Maize Under Threat - GE Maize Contamination in Mexico

Publication | 18 August, 2003 at 2:00

Hands Off Our Maize Briefing Package.

Monsanto's seeds of destruction

Feature story | 18 August, 2003 at 2:00

Mexicans are being forced to swallow Monsanto's seeds of destruction, while back in the US, Monsanto is not allowed to grow its genetically engineered (GE) cotton for fear of GE contamination. To expose this double standard our activists blocked...

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