It’s Time for Genuine Free Trade
It is erroneous to believe that free traders have been historically in favor of free trade agreements between governments.
Paradoxically, the opposite is true. Curiously, many laissez-faire advocates fall into the government-made trap by supporting “free-trade” treaties. However, as Vilfredo Pareto stated in the article “Traités de commerce of the Nouveau Dictionnaire d’Economie Politique” (1901):
If we accept free trade, treatises of commerce have no reason to exist as a goal. There is no need to have them since what they are meant to fix does not exist anymore, each nation letting come and go freely any commodity at its borders. This was the doctrine of J.B. Say and of all the French economic school until Michel Chevalier. It is the exact model Léon Say recently adopted. It was also the doctrine of the English economic school until Cobden. Cobden, by taking the responsibility of the 1860 treaty between France and England, moved closer to the revival of the odious policy of the treaties of reciprocity, and came close to forgetting the doctrine of political economy for which he had been, in the first part of his life, the intransigent advocate.
In 1859, the French liberal economist Michel Chevalier went to see Richard Cobden to propose a free trade treaty between France and England. For sure, this treaty, enacted in 1860, was a temporary success for free traders. What is less known however, is that at first, Cobden, in accordance with the free trade doctrine, refused to negotiate or sign any “free trade” treaty. His argument was that free trade should be unilateral, that it consists not in treaties but in complete freedom in international trade, regardless of where products come from.