The trade trap Dealing with democracies and dictators

Mathias Döpfner

Book - 2023

"Global business leader Mathias Döpfner offers a revolutionary roadmap to reshape global trade, strengthen our democracy, and safeguard our freedoms. Freedom is on the decline around the world. Autocrats in Europe, Asia, and the Mideast are undermining our open societies, human rights, and the rule of law. The Russian invasion in Ukraine was a wake-up call for the West, but the biggest threat remains China. For two generations, Americans and Europeans have believed that change will come through trade, but instead of dictatorships becoming more like Western democracies, unfettered free trade has strengthened our enemies and undermined our countries. We are caught in a trade trap, faced with the decision to choose either opportunism and... submission or opposition and emancipation. In The Trade Trap, one of the world's most powerful business leaders traces the rise and costs of Western dependency on China and Russia. And he suggests a radical new approach to free trade: The establishment of a new values-based alliance of democracies. Membership is based on the adherence of three very simple criteria: the rule of law, human rights, and sustainability targets. Countries that comply with these criteria can engage in tariff-free trade with others. Those who don't will pay prohibitive tariffs. Sharing the author's encounters with major global figures including Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, George W. Bush, Angela Merkel, Jack Ma, and more, The Trade Trap offers personal insight into the dangerous consequences of doing business with autocrats along with a bold proposal for a values-based trade policy"--

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New York : Simon and Schuster 2023.
Main Author
Mathias Döpfner (author)
First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition
Item Description
Includes index.
Physical Description
x, 194 pages ; 23 cm
  • Preface: My Love for Democracy
  • Thirty Minutes with Vladimir Putin
  • I. The Status Quo: Old and New Enemies
  • Democracy on the Defensive
  • War, Peace, and My Father
  • Putin's War Against Freedom
  • Staging Power-How to Recognize Autocrats
  • II. The Problem: Freedom is Fragile
  • Rule by Fear
  • Imprisoned for Reporting the Truth
  • Weakened from Within-Donald Trump and Angela Merkel
  • "A Good Day for Russia"
  • III. The Escalation: The China Challenge
  • On a Plane with Helmut Kohl-My First Encounter with "Wandel durch Handel"
  • Dependence on China
  • A Visit to Alibaba-Jack Ma Falls Silent
  • IV. The Answer: Freedom Trade
  • The Downfall of the World Trade Organization
  • Dinner with the Ambassador-And Why the Chinese Feel Very Hurt
  • The Contract-A New World Trade Order
  • Epilogue: Thirty Minutes with Annalena Baerbock
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

Döpfner, journalist and chairman and CEO of Axel Springer SE, claims that free and open societies are facing existential threats like war, dictators, autocrats, and weak leadership. The reason this is important is that, while free trade appears to work, it is benefiting countries like China and Russia who are known, politically, to undermine human rights and freedom. Döpfner notes that it's up to us to decide if we want to continue fueling these "enemies" or if we want to embrace a new way by getting out of the trade trap. The simple formula he proposes for a new world trade order is adherence to: the rule of law, human rights and carbon dioxide targets. He recommends that the U.S. and EU lead the charge to make changes happen. Implementing these practices, he says, promotes a more responsible way to do business and support democracy. Enforcement would advance human rights and penalize non-conformance through economic impacts like high tariffs. This book will appeal to readers who are interested in global trade, humanity, and how our choices, rather than politics and economics, impacts democracy.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

This scattershot debut from Döpfner, CEO of Germany's Axel Springer media conglomerate, argues that American and European trade with nondemocratic countries didn't liberalize the latter, but instead made the former economically dependent on and politically subservient to dictatorships. He cites Germany's 2011 decision to shutter its nuclear plants and import Russian natural gas for power, a policy that led to energy shortages and inflation when the Ukraine War cut off Russian gas supplies. Offshoring industries to China, Döpfner contends, has hollowed out Western economies and enabled China to push around businesses outside its borders, as when Mercedes-Benz, which relies on auto exports to China, bowed to negative press in Chinese media and apologized for quoting the Dalai Lama in a social media post. Döpfner's account of fighting to free Axel Springer reporters imprisoned in Turkey and Iran drives home the stakes of the expanding influence of dictatorships. Unfortunately, his call for a Freedom Trade Alliance between democracies walled off from authoritarian nations by tariffs is sketchier, glossing over the inflationary effects of banning cheap Chinese manufactures and conceding that trade with tyrants in such products as oil and antibiotics would have to continue until alternative supply chains could be built. This makes an incisive moral case for a values-based trade policy, but the economic logic is weaker. (Sept.)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

When high-minded rhetoric about trade meets dictators, the dictators always win. The idea that trading with a country ruled by a dictator will lead toward democracy has always been flawed. Döpfner, CEO of the Berlin-based Axel Springer SE, a global media and tech company, notes that there is even a common German phrase for it: "wandel durch handel," meaning "change through trade." The main problem with this concept is that it does nothing but embolden the dictator. In this book, the author focuses mostly on China, but he also offers plenty of insight on Russia and how the invasion of Ukraine altered the geopolitical landscape. In fact, it was the willingness of Western companies and governments to continue trading with Russia after the takeover of Crimea that made Putin think that there would be no consequences for further aggression. Döpfner notes that the situation with China was even worse, with American and European companies rushing in when China joined the World Trade Organization, willfully ignoring the long catalog of human rights abuses and Xi Jinping's authoritarian rule. By the time the real costs were realized, there was a high degree of enmeshment--although in the past few years, some companies have started to withdraw. Dictatorships often use the language of free trade while manipulating the rules for their own benefit, and for this reason, Döpfner argues strongly against the WTO, suggesting a new alliance based on the rule of law, human rights, and sustainability measures. Tariffs would be applied to countries that reject these principles. It's an intriguing idea, but the details would be tricky. The author punctuates the book with accounts of his meetings with leaders such as Putin, Helmut Kohl, and German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock. He presents a clear-minded, thought-provoking book, and he pulls no punches. Döpfner issues a sharp warning about the danger of appeasement and charts an alternative path forward. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.