Pricking the pomposity of EU’s trade policymaker

Letters to the Editor in the Financial Times are usually literate, civil, and informed. Sometimes too they are also passionate. Such is the case with the lead letter today from our friend Jean-Pierre Lehmann, professor at IMD and founder of The Evian Group, who roundly derided Peter Mandelson, the European trade commissioner, for trying to impose EU labor standards in bilateral trade agreements with developing countries.

Here’s what Lehmann wrote:

What business is it of the EU to try to improve working conditions in the developing world? For 200 years Europe ravaged and exploited the developing world, with abysmal labour practices, as well as brutally mistreating its own labour, but now chooses to prance pompously about with its allegedly superior values that it wishes to impose on others.

. . .

As a European I find it extremely embarrassing, and in any case totally counter-productive, to have our political leaders and senior officials so manifestly display their incapacity to abandon colonial mentalities and colonial attitudes.

The letter points out that much better for the developing world is for the EU and other rich countries to open their markets. Lehmann also attacks the widespread move toward bilateral trade, which “is an unfair Darwinian tactic to marginalise weak countries.” A better task, he wrote, is to “strengthen the multilateral system,” which is inclusive and nondiscriminatory toward small countries.

Right on, Jean-Pierre!