Why international trade is positive – and why call centres are a shining example

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Two news stories caught my attention last week. The first was Donald Trump’s horrific inaugural address. I forced myself to listen to it all.

One thing stood out for me: the promise “to protect our borders from the ravages of other countries…destroying our jobs” and “to bring back our jobs”. Apart from the absolute hypocrisy of it – much of his own wealth has depended on foreign supplies and labour – there is little evidence that such protectionism will work. Remember George W. Bush’s tariffs on imported steel, which resulted in reduced domestic steel production, increased cost to purchasers, and increased unemployment in related industries?

The Moral Argument

On another level, though, there is a strong moral argument against protectionism. As a one-time student of the economics of developing countries, I believe that, despite its shortcomings, international trade helps spread wealth to poorer nations, and is a force for good for the human race as a whole.

Some people see it as a negative - ‘globalisation’ - and while it is far from perfect, it’s here to stay. Despite Trump’s efforts, it will continue to grow. We are all part of it. Chances are the device you are reading this on was made abroad, as were the clothes you’re wearing, the music system you’re listening to, and numerous other things around your house and office. I’m sure even Trump doesn’t write his poisonous tweets on an American-made phone!


It may take a few generations to shake out, and for all of its negative effects to lessen. We are all aware of poor practices, and (happily) increasingly intolerant of products which are produced in sweatshops or using child labour. I do agree there is a long way to go, but we are headed in the right direction.


Call Centres - A Great Example

My own industry is a great example of international trade working well. I’ve been to a number of offshore call centres – near and far – over the years, and they are first-class operations, in some cases better than those I’ve seen back at home. As a customer, I have found them to provide excellent service, and although the form of conversation and accent may be a little different, I have always had my problem or query solved.

I know the drivers are largely cost-driven, but staff are all treated with respect, are ambitious and keen to learn, and have great opportunities to develop their careers. Call centre jobs are, as we know, desirable in these countries. We are providing quality employment, in quality conditions, and income to the wider society. It makes me happy to be a part of it.

And the other news story?

The other story was Oxfam’s announcement that the richest eight people in the world have wealth equivalent to the poorest 50%, and that global inequality is still growing. Six of these eight are Americans. Maybe Mr. Trump should look a bit closer to home…