Your article `No profit from protectionism’ May 1998 page 12, begs comment. I am the first to agree with the policy of facing competition directly but I am also a cynical pragmatist when it comes to believing that government understands what it means in reality. Take Europe for example, we have a `single market’ with `no barriers’, surely the stuff of anti protectionism? Look a little closer and you will see UK firms spending to comply with European legislation which which is as yet unrecognised by some of our European colleagues. Consequently our products are more expensive than theirs. Then there is the US perspective where their machinery manufacturers are not permitted to sell product in Europe, unless, that is, a European resident undertakes safety responsibilities.
This is hypocritical protectionism: we don’t believe in it but we can achieve the same ends.
I do not believe that any UK government sets out to achieve this and their records in trying to influence Europe shows this. They do, however, get dragged into the maelstrom by France and Germany in particular whose motives in Europe at best seem doubtful.
As a friend pointed out, the best way to describe Europe to an outsider is to ask them to imagine that all the low walls around each country are being knocked down and one high one is being built with the bricks around the whole of Europe, and we will not have protectionism.