Contradictions of Protectionist Populism

Member of the Academic Council of Libertad y Progreso.
PhD in Administration from the Catholic University of La Plata and Professor of Economics at the Faculty of Law and Social Sciences of the UBA. His research has been collected internationally and he has published books and scientific and outreach articles. He has served as Rector of ESEADE and as a consultant for the University of Manchester, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, OAS, IDB and G7Group, Inc. He has received awards and scholarships, including the Eisenhower Exchange Fellowship and the Freedom Project of the John Templeton Foundation.

CLARÍN – We already know that the Covid-19 pandemic has unleashed all kinds of changes, many of which we hope will be temporary, although some will be permanent. The anxiety of the people has led to hyperactivity of governments, either because of anxiety to offer answers, fear of the political impact of a failure or taking advantage of the opportunity to concentrate power.

With a short-term and local vision, many of them have reacted echoing a dramatic feeling. In a “save yourself who can” style, they have given priority to signs that they are doing something important for local voters, while the best would be exactly the opposite. This is particularly noticeable in the area of ​​international trade in medical supplies. Curiously, the “protectionist” eagerness has now turned and governments impose barriers on the exports of these products and reduce them for imports.Newsletters Clarín Alberto and Cristina

Evolución de la economía

Many have done it, not only the Argentine government, but this one already in March decreed that a series of medical supplies would require authorization to be exported, which was expanded a few days ago (Decree 405/2020) incorporating other 39 supplies that they will now need a special export permit from the Ministry of Productive Development, with the intervention of the Ministry of Health. At the same time, the Argentine government opened imports and lowered barriers to importing inputs, in an accelerated learning of the benefits of free trade.

Reversing the traditional mercantilist view of populism, it now turns out that exports are bad and imports are good. The reasons for this change are simple and clear: we want to avoid shortages of these products. The reality is that it is not going to be avoided since everyone seems to be doing the same thing: what free imports will I have if the others also prohibit their exports? And if we complain about it they will tell us that we do the same.

Before the discredited World Health Organization, it seemed that something more practical could be done by the World Trade Organization to achieve an emergency agreement, given the circumstances, and avoid these types of measures that harm everyone.

This is precisely the point of a recent declaration signed by 31 organizations from all over the world, among which is the Fundación Libertad y Progreso de Argentina, “on the importance of collaboration, commercial openness and innovation in the fight against the Covid-19 ”. There, countries are called to eliminate tariffs on medical supplies and medicines, to reject export bans, to reduce customs bureaucratic procedures, to allow the free flow of health information between countries, to maintain transparency in the collection and exchanges of epidemiological information, to increase cooperation with other countries to accelerate drug approval and to support innovation, including intellectual property rights.

Regarding this last point, the Argentine government has proudly presented a fruit of that innovation, in the case of the rapid test developed by scientists from institutes and a local laboratory, but a few days later, the Minister of Health, to the contrary, stated that Argentina would have an “uncompromising” position in the WHO, so that patents do not govern as soon as some vaccines against the disease are discovered. Would the opinion be the same if the laboratory that discovered it were Argentine?

There are known to be over 140 vaccine development projects worldwide, and it is likely that more than one will be obtained. Surely, both laboratories and governments around the world will want these vaccines to be massively disseminated. Furthermore, the same laboratories that obtain patents know that they will not have the productive capacity to meet their demand, but also that they need to recover the money invested in their development.

Going out to fight with these companies, especially if they are not in the country, is a sure success for those who see politics like us against others, but changing the rules of the game once the result has been obtained would be the equivalent of telling them to those same politicians that although they have won the last election, in truth the positions are going to be awarded by lottery. Would you agree?

Unlike all short-term government activity, the aforementioned declaration emphasizes a very important point: that this openness and international cooperation be permanent, that it be part of a global institutional framework based on cooperation, the exchange of information, goods and technologies. No barriers that serve to encourage the spirit of the tribe, but make us lose the benefits of the “global village”.