Let us therefore sign commercial treaties on the basis of an equitable reciprocity, let us make concessions in return for concessions, and let us make the sacrifice of buying in order to obtain the benefit of selling.

Frédéric Bastiat
Economic Sophisms First Series.

In this pamphlet, Bastiat tells us the apology of Stulta and Puera, two cities that could as well be countries and that surrendered the prosperity created by trade thanks to adding obstacles to its natural way of working. Once again, he is denouncing mercantilism and the sophism that consists in believing that exports are more legitimate than imports.

Interestingly, the quote reminds us with irony that opening trade thanks to so called free-trade agreements is not free trade. Experience tells us today that these agreements are only second-best in comparison to stronger restrictions that are usually in place without them. However, the ideal free-trade agreement is the one that does not exist and genuine free-trade does not require reciprocity before lowering tariffs to zero unilaterally. The United Kingdom tried it in the 19th century, Hong Kong and Singapore tried it in the 20th – it works!

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