The era of open markets and open borders is over, its demise hastened by the climate crisis, populism and now coronavirus
Over the past 30 years China has become the world’s factory. For the past few weeks, the production line has been shut down by plant closures deemed necessary to halt the spread of coronavirus. Beijing fears there will be both short- and long-term damage from the outbreak. The country is on course for its first quarter of negative growth in decades, while earlier this week China’s ambassador to the World Trade Organization (WTO) called on other countries not to use coronavirus as an excuse to put up trade barriers.
The fact that Zhang Xiangchen felt the need to make this appeal speaks volumes. China suspects there will be backdoor protectionism – and it is almost certainly right, because for years countries around the world have needed little encouragement to resort to protectionism. What’s more, the restrictions are not just on the movement of goods. Earlier this month, the US treasury announced curbs on foreign investment to protect critical technology, data and infrastructure from foreign sabotage. Donald Trump’s plans for a wall along the US border with Mexico are emblematic of a toughening up of controls on migration. An era of open markets and open borders – where trade and transnational capital flows rose rapidly as a share of global output – has run its course. The instruments of deglobalisation are being weaponised.
Companies are realising that lengthy global supply chains have costs as well as benefits. Coronavirus has brought that home with a vengeance