International trade matters more than ever as Americans strive to get back to work after the coronavirus-related shutdowns. A pandemic is not the time, if there ever were one, to dampen the freedom to trade with protectionist policies. America can best reinvigorate economic activity by leveraging its natural strengths of freedom and free enterprise at home and abroad. 

In the highly complex and interwoven global economic environment, open trade is a constantly evolving phenomenon and process. The temptation to seek short-term advantages through protectionist measures abounds

>>> What’s the best way for America to reopen and return to business? The National Coronavirus Recovery Commission, a project of The Heritage Foundation, assembled America’s top thinkers to figure that out. So far, it has made more than 260 recommendations. Learn more here. 

As a recent report by the World Trade Organization noted, “80 countries and separate customs territories have introduced export prohibitions or restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, including 46 WTO members (72 if [European Union] member states are counted individually) and eight non-WTO members.” 

Defending and advancing trade freedom will be critical in charting an economic rebound from the coronavirus-caused recession. To that end, The Heritage Foundation’s National Coronavirus Recovery Commission recently underscored in its report “Saving Lives and Livelihoods: Recommendations for Recovery”: 

The U.S. should intentionally be proactive in promoting “free trade” internationally. Protectionist barriers should be reduced, with the caveats that trade should be economically fair over time, should protect intellectual property, and should be inherently safe.  

The virus has posed global challenges, and solutions will similarly come through network response with America’s allies and partners. Countless American jobs involved the exchange of materials, skills, and talents of people from among allies and trading partners around the world—and vice versa.  

Echoing that critical reminder, the Business Roundtable pointed out in a new report that “as the United States faces dual public health and economic crises, trade can be a critical driver of job restoration and economic recovery.” The timely report further notes that “restoring trade, for example with policies that support the free and fair exchange of goods and services, can help more Americans get back to work.” 

Ensuring international supply lines and removing barriers to free trade are critical means to improve access to innovative life-saving technology and products to fight the virus, leverage collaboration that can help reinvigorate businesses from the ground up, and accelerate U.S. economic recovery. 

Policy makers in Washington and around the globe cannot simply spend their way back into prosperity after the toll public health responses have taken on local economies. For a full recovery, it is essential that economic freedom not be curtailed by extended government emergency powers.  

The freedom to trade must be guarded and enhanced to spark a greater number of constructive free-market solutions and ensure private sector growth in the post-pandemic global economic world.  

Thousands of American jobs rely on people, information, and goods from beyond our borders—and vice versa. Trade freedom is thus a crucial part of the recipe for mutual recovery. A fresh focus on free-market policies will require stepping out with more nimble and bold initiatives that will refine and sharpen the tone and character for America’s trade and investment policy. 

Now is the time to commit more vigorously to trade-enhancing policies that have worked at home and abroad by strengthening the rule of law, improving regulatory efficiency, and opening markets. Open and freer trade, whether bilaterally, regionally, or multilaterally, has proven one of the best ways to promote sustained prosperity over the past decades.  

Continuing to enhance trade freedom for individuals and enterprises is a critical component in ensuring America’s dynamic economic recovery.