The recent and ongoing debate around the selection of the Spanish e-voting company Scytl over home-grown Intelivote got me thinking again about the importance of buying local and supporting our own entrepreneurs. But this time I was hit with a new argument against that support – free trade!
Most of the time I love free trade. Sure, it has some downsides in the short run but in the bigger picture it reduces consumer prices, supports developing economies and creates competitive, productive businesses. The biggest downside is that if you are not competitive and cannot become competitive, you are doomed.
Where I don’t like free trade is when agreements cause us to ignore other strategic priorities like food security, energy security and supporting local business. At some level we need to remember that we are not the government and our primary objective is not to save the world’s economy, but to support our members and help them succeed.
Where free trade enters into the intelivote situation is with regard to the near-completed European Free Trade agreement, more formally known as the CETA – Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement. In this arrangement, purchases by municipal governments are opened up and subject to the restrictions of free trade. Specifically, no special consideration can be given to one group over another, for example local companies over foreign ones. Thus if a local company won a competitive bid over a foreign company who had a better bid, then that foreign entity would have a cause to claim a violation of the free trade agreement. So obviously nothing could ever be engrained in policy to protect or support local business. This makes the job of local economic development very hard.