Brexit may suffer from the most uniquely inverted public perception in modern international affairs. The British referendum to leave the European Union – the most successful rebellion against global governance to date – is depicted as a racist and xenophobic retreat into an isolated and atomized existence. In fact, it is only Brexit that allows the UK to leave behind Brussels’ schedule of subsidies and tariffs that deny developing nations access to the world’s largest market, setting millions on a path to independence and self-sufficiency.
Brexit gives the UK the power to engage entrepreneurs in the developing world, alleviating poverty and allowing domestic industries and cultures to thrive, writes Fr. Peter Farrington in a new essay at Religion & Liberty Transatlantic.
The UK has announced it will pursue numerous post-Brexit free trade agreements. Fr. Farrington details how the Global South already plans to benefit from the UK’s newly independent status in “Brexit: For the life of the world”:
Sarah Logan, an economist with the International Growth Centre, reports that exports from Africa to the EU have increased from €85 billion (approximately $92 billion U.S.) in 2004 to €150 billion in 2014 ($163 billion), and that Africa is beginning to organise itself into trade blocs that are able to negotiate more effectively. She also considers that the fact that Britain will need to negotiate new agreements with developing nations and trade blocs in the Third World will lead to fairer and more equitable relationships with the UK. Brexit has come at the right time for Africa and other developing regions. She says that Brexit, and other developments have “the potential to significantly expand trade and economic growth in Africa.”
Fr. Farrington notes that former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith raised the tie between EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), poverty, and European resistance to mass immigration during a recent visit to the Heritage Foundation:
“The solution to African migration is not to lock people out but to help them build prosperity in their own countries through open markets,” he said. These free and open markets have not been provided by the EU, and the UK’s membership in the EU has required us to adopt trade relations with developing regions that are not to their advantage.
He cites the case of green beans which are a major product of the Kenyan economy but which face a 17 percent tariff when imported into the EU, making them less economically competitive than the subsidised beans produced in Spain and Italy. EU protectionism harms developing economies and peoples. Duncan Smith says, “The UK has long believed that trade is the best form of aid.”
Presumably, trade agreements with the UK – for now, the largest economy of any EU member state – could give Africans greater leverage in dealing with Brussels. At a minimum, it will create new markets for its products.
The UK and India hope to strike a new free trade deal as soon as the UK legally exits the EU. New Delhi’s longing for closer economic ties with its former imperial ruler points to another aspect of free trade: It can develop positive foreign relations on a global scale. But, bearing out Adam Smith’s famous observation, each desires greater economic access for its own economic benefit. India has substantially more to gain in its quest to aid its 194 million hungry citizens and 360 million people below the global poverty level.
“People of faith should care about this if they value the Lord’s injunction to care for the poor,” Fr. Farrington writes before quoting Pope John Paul II on the importance of trade for underdeveloped nations. His commentary shows how the combination of Britain’s independence and free markets have the power to unleash human potential and feed an impoverished world.
(Photo credit: Phil Warren. CC BY 2.0.)