International commerce and openness are in the British bloodstream. They have been the foundation of our economy since the Industrial Revolution. Today trade remains the cornerstone of the U.K. economy and a crucial factor in America's success too.
Yet in the current economic turmoil, it can be hard for governments to keep their eyes on the prize of economic recovery as our traditional industries suffer, jobs are lost and each country struggles to return to prosperity. It can be tempting to shut off our economies from the rest of the world and hope for the best. But it is a temptation that we should resist. For governments all over the world to get back to economic growth, we will need to ignore the siren calls to put up barriers and restrictions, to shield domestic industries from foreign competition and to close our systems off from the rest of the world.
Economic openness helps to grow the economy and to create many thousands of well-paying jobs. In Maryland alone, investments by British companies support about 18,000 American jobs. And last year, Maryland companies exported nearly half a billion dollars worth of goods to the U.K. Given the current pressures on our economies, we need to recall that the prosperity created by our globalized economy has not come about by accident. It is the result of our collective choice for openness.
In rich countries, openness has created high-paying jobs and made available less-expensive goods and services for consumers. In the developing world, international trade and investment have lifted millions out of poverty. And although Europe and the U.S. together represent 12 percent of the world's population, we account for 40 percent of the world's trade and 50 percent of the world's gross domestic product. The U.S.-European transatlantic economy remains the largest, most integrated and most important economic relationship in the world. We must maintain this commitment to openness that has served us well by sticking to our principles.
Worldwide, there have been thankfully few old-fashioned hikes in import tariffs. But we have seen a proliferation of subsidies and other support packages that could choke international trade. At the London Summit in April, which President Barack Obama attended, world leaders renewed a pledge not to impose new trade restrictions. But according to the World Bank, since then several countries have imposed or are considering 23 new protectionist measures. These are on top of at least 47 trade-restricting measures imposed after the G20 Summit in November.
No country is blameless; Europe's restoration of export subsidies for dairy products was regrettable. Likewise, here in the U.S. there are measures and proposals that, taken together, cause real concern - for example, the "Buy American" provisions in the stimulus package and restrictions placed on the banks receiving federal help from employing highly skilled foreigners. Politicians, diplomats and, most importantly, businesses must speak out against restrictions if we wish to continue to reap the rewards of trade.
Baltimore understands how important it is to show the world that it is open for business and open to trade. This Europe-facing city has always understood the importance and value of foreign relations and international trade. It has based much of its economic success upon these qualities. (When I took up my role as British ambassador in Washington, D.C., in 2007, my own belongings were among the 8 million tons of cargo that pass through the Port of Baltimore every year.)
But trade isn't limited to cargo. For example, Johns Hopkins Hospital has partnerships that help export its top-quality specialist medical services around the globe. In the future, surely patients in countries with less stellar medical institutions would benefit from this exchange, just as Johns Hopkins would benefit from new sources of revenue. Applied across other high-tech fields, the possibilities for trade will multiply.
The challenges created as more sectors open up to trade are real but manageable. We cannot let those who would restrict trade and investment be the loudest voices in this debate. We need to keep reminding leaders of the value of foreign investment and trade to jobs and prosperity - because protectionism doesn't actually protect economies at all.
Sir Nigel Sheinwald is the British ambassador to the United States. The embassy may be contacted at www.ukinusa.fco.gov.uk.