Here in rural Saskatchewan, there aren’t an overabundance of kids to play sports. Often teams must recruit younger players to make up a whole team. My 12-year-old daughter loves the sport of softball but it often requires her to “play up.” In other words, she’s on a team with girls who are a little older than she is.
I like her determination. But I also warned her: “You must perform. Don’t expect anybody to go easy on you because you’re younger. You’ll receive no concessions from your coach or your teammates—and especially not from your competitors.”
It occurs to me that there may be a lesson in this for China when it comes to trade. I have no idea whether softball is popular in Shanghai, but the Chinese have claimed for a long time that they want to do their own version of playing up. They want to be taken seriously as a mature nation that trades on fair terms with the rest of the world.
That’s well and good. Before it can truly happen, however, the Chinese must start to play by the rules. Right now, when it comes to global trade, it’s hard to describe their actions as anything but misbehavior.
China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 and although China offered few political liberties—and of course today it remains strictly authoritarian—it had loosened up on its command-and-control approach to economics. It still had a long way to go, but it also promised to live up to its obligations as a member of the WTO. It pledged to deal fairly with fellow members of this intergovernmental group.
China has gotten a lot bigger since then. It boasts the world’s second-largest economy (after the United States), but it continues to conduct itself like a little kid who wants to see how seriously her parents will enforce the rules.
In the family of nations, this is unacceptable.
I could list any number of China’s economic offenses, from its brazen disregard for intellectual-property rights to its forced technology transfers to its illegal subsidies of state-owned companies. But most days, with the exception of hearing about it in the news, my own day to day is not affected.
This year however, I began to feel the pinch personally, when China blocked Canada’s canola-seed exports.
We grow canola on our farm. It’s one of our most important crops here in Saskatchewan and we work hard to make sure it’s the best it can be.
Last year, Canadian farmers sold $2.7 billion of canola seed to China. In fact, we sold canola seed to 27 countries in 2018. Not a single one complained about its quality.
Earlier this year, however, China banned Canadian canola seed, claiming that a shipment contained too many pests. The Chinese supplied no scientific evidence for this claim. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency nevertheless took the objection seriously. It tested the shipment. It found that our canola seeds met Chinese regulatory standards. Then, just to be safe, it tested the shipment again. And once more it found the shipment more than adequate.
China is playing hard ball.
It’s bad enough that Canadian farmers are losing an economic opportunity. It’s even worse that China’s dishonesty implicates the quality of what we grow and sell. This smear job has the potential to damage our reputation with buyers in other countries.
The purpose of the WTO and just about every free-trade agreement is to prevent the use of economics to play politics—but if a country insists on playing politics, it would be better simply to admit it rather than to disguise the truth.
China is using protectionism to try to manipulate Canada’s foreign policy. It breaks international rules to advance selfish purposes.
When China joined the WTO, it described itself as a developing nation—and pleaded for special treatment and understanding. Today, China is a fully developed country, with an advanced economy that continues to expand.
The nations of the world must band together and compel China and all other rule breakers, to improve its behavior on trade.
It’s time to hear the umpire call foul ball!