Any time you walk into a super market and pick up any stuff like a knife or a toy and chances are that the item has been manufactured in China or assembled in Mexico. Pick up coffee pods and you will see that they have been imported from Africa. When you shop for clothes, it is quite likely that you will see â€˜Made In Chinaâ€™ label.
We all know that international trade has been in vogue for centuries and all civilizations carried on trade with other parts of the world. The need for trading exists due to the variations in availability of resources and comparative advantage. In the present context where technology and innovation in all fields have thrown open borders to globalization, no country can afford to remain isolated and be self-sufficient.
International trade has a rich history starting with barter system being replaced by Mercantilism in the 16th and 17th Centuries. The 18th Century saw the shift towards liberalism. It was in this period that Adam Smith, the father of Economics wrote the famous book â€˜The Wealth of Nationsâ€™ in 1776 where in he defined the importance of specialization in production and brought International trade under the said scope. David Ricardo developed the Comparative advantage principle, which stands true even today.
All these economic thoughts and principles have influenced the international trade policies of each country. Though in the last few centuries, countries have entered into several pacts to move towards free trade where the countries do not impose tariffs in terms of import duties and allow trading of goods and services to go on freely.
The 19th century beginning saw the move towards professionalism, which petered down by end of the century. Around 1913, the countries in the west say extensive move towards economic liberty where in quantitative restrictions were done away with and customs duties were reduced across countries. All currencies were freely convertible into Gold, which was the international monetary currency of exchange. Establishing business anywhere and finding employment was easy and one can say that trade was really free between countries around this period.
The First World War changed the entire course of the world trade and countries built walls around themselves with wartime controls. Post world war, as many as five years went into dismantling of the wartime measures and getting back trade to normalcy. But then the economic recession in 1920 changed the balance of world trade again and many countries saw change of fortunes due to fluctuation of their currencies and depreciation creating economic pressures on various Governments to adopt protective mechanisms by adopting to raise customs duties and tariffs.
The need to reduce the pressures of economic conditions and ease international trade between countries gave rise to the World Economic Conference in May 1927 organized by League of Nations where in the most important industrial countries participated and led to drawing up of Multilateral Trade Agreement. This was later followed with General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1947.
However once again depression struck in 1930s disrupting the economies in all countries leading to rise in import duties to be able to maintain favorable balance of payments and import quotas or quantity restrictions including import prohibitions and licensing.
Slowly the countries began to grow familiar to the fact that the old school of thoughts were no longer going to be practical and that they had to keep reviewing their international trade policies on continuous basis and this interns lead to all countries agreeing to be guided by the international organizations and trade agreements in terms of international trade.
Today the understanding of international trade and the factors influencing global trade is much better understood. The context of global markets have been guided by the understanding and theories developed by economists based on Natural resources available with various countries which give them the comparative advantage, Economies of Scale of large scale production, technology in terms of e commerce as well as product life cycle changes in tune with advancement of technology as well as the financial market structures.
For professionals who are occupying management or leadership positions in Organizations, understanding the background to the international trade and economic policies becomes necessary as it forms the backdrop for the business organizations to charter their course for growth.