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Trade and corruption: Do we deal with corrupt countries or not?

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In theory, free trade and corruption are incompatible. Reality, however, paints a different picture: the 33 countries classed as having limited or no enforcement of anti-corruption laws represent more than half the world’s exports. Often, these same countries where corruption is rife are also poverty-stricken and riddled with human rights violations, such as modern slavery and child labour.


How do we balance the benefits of trade agreements and opening up international trade and the risk of supporting or even increasing corruption and human rights abuses?

If we impose trade sanctions or restrictions on these ‘more corrupt countries’ – does that then not punish an entire country for the activities of its elites?

Should we be trading/liberalising trade with countries that have high levels of corruption, climate violations, or human rights abuses?

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The European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) has selected some of its resources to provide young people like you with background information and insights linked to the topic above.

In-Depth Analysis, October 2019

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17 October 2020

We shouldn't trade, the trade with this countries does not contribute directly to our prosperity but is enriches few companies, e.g. weapon industries, big corps and so on. If you measure prosperity with economic growth of course we need this trade, but prosperity is not economic growth but equality, good environment and free time to dedicate to other things.

10 June 2020

As much of of the prosperity we currently enjoy is coming precisely from nations that do not respect human rights (e.g. China, but also some African countries), it will not be possible to stop trading with them without a strong hit to our welfare levels.

Therefore we need to do it in several steps:

1) shorten supply chains and make sure that we can produce more products and food within the EU, so that we are less dependent on other regions to supply our products and so that the system becomes more sustainable.

2) As Europe does not have the resources to be completely independent from trade, we should use trade agreements to force our trading partners to comply with sustainable development rules. Examples of which are labour regulations, environmental rules, CO2 emissions reduction....

The idea is 'less but better'. Maybe we should aim for less trade in volume, but better quality trade when we do engage in it.

Dimitar Bozov
08 August 2019

We deal by not trading with them. When we do trade with countries which do not respect human rights and the rule of law we make them richer. Just see China. The west has been trading with China over the last 30 years. Now the Chinese communist party uses the prosperity created by the trade with the west as a political propaganda tool. It also exports its violent ideology to other countries, especially in Africa. Same issue with Saudi Arabia which is a middle-age feudal society. The revenues from oil trade go into financing radical Islamic groups. All this hurts not only people in countries outside the EU but also EU citizens.