Western countries commonly proclaim the great benefits of free trade and the evils of protectionism.
In reality, many developed countries practise double standards, insisting on free trade in areas where they are strong, whilst using protectionist measures in sectors where they are weak.
In the worst case, within the same sector they have designed rules that impose liberalisation on developing countries but allow themselves to maintain high protectionism.
An outstanding example is in agriculture, in which the rich counties are not competitive.
If “free trade” were to be practised, a large part of global agricultural trade would be dominated by the more efficient developing countries.
But until today, agricultural trade is dominated instead by the major developed countries.
For many decades they got an exemption for agriculture from trade liberalisation rules.
This exemption ended when the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was created in 1995 and the rich countries were expected to open their agriculture to global competition.
But in reality, WTO’s agriculture agreement allowed them to have both high tariffs and high subsidies.
The subsidies have enabled farmers to sell their products at low prices, often below production cost, yet allowed them to get adequate revenues (which include the subsidies) that keep them in business.