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Firstly, it is worth defining the premises of this motion. Free trade is in its most simple economic definition the movement of goods and services across borders freely. An agreement to buy goods or services may happen over borders as if the border did not exist. This is in contrast to protectionist policies, such as tariffs (taxes placed on imports) or quotas (physical limits of the number of goods allowed to be imported).
For the sake of this debate, however, it is also important to focus on the political and human consequences of free trade. Thus, I will define this debate as a discussion on whether the benefits of the post-1970s rise in free trade have outweighed the consequences.
In order to win this debate, the side proposition has a very difficult task. They must prove to you that without this rise in free trade people would be economically better-off and have a higher quality of living. Throughout my arguments, I will show you that it is free trade which has caused most of the international rise in living standards and economic growth we have seen (let’s just entertain the thought of the world before COVID-19!).
The reason that I can argue side proposition cannot show this is due to the very economic theory of trade itself. The most accurate theory comes from 19th-century economist David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage. This theory states that each country’s economy should produce whatever it has a comparative advantage in producing, and trade with others to meet all of its needs. Comparative advantage means that a country can produce a unit of goods at the lowest opportunity of other goods they could produce. Imagine if the USA can produce 10 tonnes of wheat per acre but on 1 tonne of lamb per acre. New Zealand can produce 1 tonne of wheat per acre but 10 tonnes of lamb. It makes no sense that both countries should try and produce both lamb and wheat on their lands, they should produce as much as possible of that which they are best at and trade to fulfil their needs.
This does sound very abstract, but it is this which causes lower prices and greater choice for all consumers. Furthermore, the entire world’s economy is now structured on this basis, with large scale restructurings. Australia saw a rapid boom in its mining industries, China is the manufacturing workshop of the world, South Korea is a technology powerhouse. This is nothing but a benefit to the consumer. There were days when a television or personal computer were the ultimate purchase, inaccessible to the vast majority of the population. Because of that chain of specialisation due to trade we can buy TVs for only a few hundred dollars, we all now carry around iPhones or Samsung smartphones.
There are those consumeristic benefits, but there are also humanitarian miracles brought about through trade. Since 1990 free trade has dropped the percentage living in extreme poverty in developing countries by 21%. Cheap food imports are feeding the world, keeping the poorest alive.
Trade saves lives on a level charity could never, saving and improving lives is a benefit that outweighs any harms my opponent will bring, therefore you must conclude with me that free trade does not do more harm than good.
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