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The growth in international trade as a result of trade liberalization has added significantly to world prosperity. The trade agreements already negotiated or being negotiated could, if completed, ratified and brought into force, lead to valuable further increases in trade and the incomes of participating states.

But the prospects for trade expansion as a result of new trade agreement are bleak. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which was only concluded after long and tortuous negotiations, has yet to be ratified by the U.S. Senate or the Diet.

In the United States, Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, has denounced the agreement in forthright terms. He has also attacked other trade agreements including the North American Free Trade Agreement concluded by the U.S. If elected he would pose a serious threat to world trade.

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party candidate, who had promoted the TPP, has now withdrawn her support as a result of protectionist pressures from American unions. President Barack Obama, who sees the TPP as an important element in his pivot toward Asia, has urged early ratification, but the Republicans in the Senate, although supportive of the agreement, are reluctant to do anything for a president they loathe.

In Japan, agricultural lobbies are highly critical of the agreement, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should be able to force through ratification of the TPP, although he may be reluctant to do so if there is no chance of American ratification.

A somewhat similar agreement being negotiated between the U.S. and the European Union faces opposition from various bodies in Europe, which fear — probably wrongly — that the agreement might be misused to undermine national organizations such as the U.K. National Health Service. The negotiations are continuing but it is far from clear when and if, in the light of the recent British referendum, they will be concluded.

An EU trade agreement with Canada, which took many years to negotiate, has to be ratified by all 28 EU states. Austria has already objected and EU ratification is uncertain.

An EU trade arrangement with the Ukraine needed to help a state under threat from Russia has also been called into question following a referendum in the Netherlands, which in a small poll advised against the agreement.

The British government has yet to decide whether or not to remain in European customs union as most large U.K. exporters favor. The Conservative Party is divided between the die-hard “Brexiteers” who favor a “hard Brexit” and the former supporters of the “remain” campaign who seek a “soft Brexit.”

Negotiations on the terms of Brexit are now likely to start next spring, as Prime Minister Theresa May has said that by the end of March Britain will invoke Article 50 of the EU treaty under which a member state can negotiate secession from the union. Negotiations under this article have to be completed within two years.

Hard Brexit supporters emphasize “taking back control” and asserting British independence and sovereignty. They attach priority to controlling immigration from the EU and seem ready to sacrifice participation in the single market. May’s speech to the Conservative annual conference, promising legislation to take back control from Brussels, rejecting the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and insisting that Britain must be able to control immigration from the EU, has been interpreted by many to mean that she favors a hard Brexit.

May, however, continues to talk of negotiating with the EU the best possible deal for access to the single market for British exports of goods and services. But in the light of her emphasis on control of immigration from the EU, it is difficult to see how she can ensure, as rightly advocated by Japanese and U.S. business leaders, that Britain remains a good location for foreign investment and preserves “passporting rights” for financial services.

Llam Fox, the international trade secretary, who is a hard Brexit supporter, talks glibly of free trade with non-EU countries and of relying on the rules of the World Trade Organization with which Britain would have to negotiate to join as an independent state. He seems to think that the main obstacle to trade is the existence of import tariffs and gives no sign that he understands such issues as nontariff barriers, the importance of rules of origin, standards and the complexities of licensing and limitations on state aids. He also seems to think that the geographical location of markets and proximity are irrelevant.

The hard Brexit advocates, including Fox, mouth platitudes about free trade, but in practical terms they are on the side of the protectionists and the anti-globalization forces.

While the expansion of world trade and globalization has brought real additions to income and prosperity, the benefits have not been equally shared. Inequalities within societies have grown and globalization has inflicted real pain on some communities.

Inequalities and pockets of distress in society have been exacerbated by the low interest rates, which were a response to the banking crisis of 2008-2009. These have caused asset price bubbles and soaring property prices, which have made it difficult if not impossible for youngsters starting to earn a living to get on the property ladder. While some have sunk into poverty, a few, especially those engaged in property development, have become millionaires or even billionaires. Gross income disparity inevitably arouses envy and anger.

The effects of globalization have been exacerbated by digitization and robotization, which, as in previous technological revolutions, have led to less skilled workers losing their jobs.

If the world is to continue to benefit from trade liberalization and expansion, more needs to be done to provide transitional relief to workers disadvantaged by globalization. Help should be given to retraining and finding alternative employment for workers who have lost their jobs through imports.

Hugh Cortazzi was the British ambassador to Japan from 1980 to 1984.

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