These days nobody talks about free trade. It is widely believed that free trade is a relic of the past. Free trade, like the term globalization seems to be out of place in this world of polite environmentalism. Free trade has been replaced by the sensitive and caring "fair trade." In reality, the bedfellow of fair trade is national self-sufficiency, with the specter of protectionism lurking in the background.

Outside the classroom textbook, the pure version of free trade has never existed. The removal of every impediment to the flow of goods and services has been thwarted by the tyranny of distance and the prolific practice of national protectionism. The rigorous education of the economist from the end of the nineteenth century onward has been accompanied by the equally rigorous effort by governments, individuals and industries to invent promote and secure increasingly imaginative protective measures, devices and regulations. Many of these practices have grown up pragmatically as part of national economic progress or influenced by now defunct economic theories or changing societal expectations.

Upon or perhaps before graduation, most free trade economists recognize the vast difference between theoretical instruction and real world trade policy. Fortunately governments also recognize in real world trade policy another equally critical principle: International interaction cannot coexist with strict economic unilateralism. For the international system to work there must be a mutual "give and take." Economists working from the ideal and governments working from the real eventually reach a middle ground. This middle ground is where governments meet to negotiate what is acceptable and unacceptable in international trade. The current arrangement is the World Trade Organization (WTO) which was established in 1995.