Just Sociology

The Pros and Cons of Free Trade for Development

For decades, the concept of free trade has been fiercely debated, as it has far-reaching implications for the development of countries. Proponents of free trade argue that it promotes economic growth through trade liberalization, empowers women, and receives support from the World Trade Organization (WTO) through government policies, innovation, and investments in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.

Conversely, critics of free trade contend that it leads to a double standard in trade rules that benefits wealthy nations, harmful European Union (EU) policies towards African countries that hinder growth, and negative impacts on development, such as those caused by oil extraction in countries like Nigeria by companies like Shell. This paper will examine these arguments for and against free trade in promoting development.

Economic Growth through Trade Liberalization

The World Bank has long been a champion of the benefits of trade liberalization in promoting income growth, reducing poverty, and increasing economic development. Removing trade barriers, such as tariffs and subsidies, which limit competition, provide more opportunities, and increase global trade flow, have the potential to foster economic growth.

Research has shown that countries that open their markets through trade liberalization measures like lowering tariffs experience a positive impact on the growth of their GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and positive change in non-income dimensions like health and education (Ghosh & Yamarik, 2006).

Empowering Women through Trade

There has been progress made in promoting the role of women in trade, and the World Bank’s Women and Trade report outlines the potential for them to contribute to global growth. The report highlights that women tend to be concentrated in the informal sector, where wages are lower and job security is limited.

Trade can create opportunities for women to enter formal employment on fair terms, increase female entrepreneurship, and enable women-owned businesses to access international markets (World Bank Group, 2019).

WTO Support for Free Trade

The WTO provides an avenue for promoting free trade by encouraging government policies that support it, helping to spur innovation through enabling knowledge sharing, and investing in STEM education. Through these efforts, the organization aims to create a level playing field for countries of all sizes and capabilities.

The WTO has also been instrumental in developing trade rules that help liberalize global trade, which provides countries with access to foreign markets and promotes economic integration (World Trade Organization, 2021).

Double Standard in Trade Rules

Critics of free trade argue that wealthy nations, such as the EU and China, apply double standards in trade rules, creating obstacles for less-developed countries’ exports. For example, the EU maintains a series of agricultural subsidies that have had a harmful impact on the exportation of cash crops like sugar in some African countries, leading to a shift towards the exportation of other cash crops like palm oil (DW, 2018).

This results in reliance on the exportation of a single crop, reducing the abilities of affected countries to diversify their economies.

Harmful EU Policies towards African Countries

Moreover, the EU’s policies towards African countries have often been detrimental to their quest for development. Such policies tend to promote EU goods, services, and investment over Africa’s development needs.

For example, the EU has policies that give European farmers protection over African farmers which hinders their growth. Some African leaders accuse the EU of propelling a neo-colonial agenda of controlling African policies under the banner of development aid (DW, 2018).

Negative Impact of Oil Extraction on Development

Oil extraction has also attracted criticisms from various corners because of its negative impact on development, as evidenced in the case of Nigeria. Shell, the oil giant, has been accused of contributing to a poor education system, high poverty rates, and poor living conditions in some poor Nigerian communities (Amnesty International, 2021).

Much of the profits from the extraction of natural resources like oil tend to benefit multinational corporations and government elites, rather than the wider population who suffer from adverse resources (UNCTAD, 2012).


In conclusion, while free trade can help promote economic growth in developing countries, it is important to note the caveats, including the potential for double standards in trade rules, harmful policies by unreasonable institutions towards African countries that limit their growth, and the negative impacts of natural resource extraction on development. Though it is difficult to determine whether the gains from free trade will offset its negative effects in the long term, it is clear that policies must be implemented to ensure free trade is implemented in a fair and equitable manner that allows for sustainable development.

In conclusion, the debate over free trade and development remains as contentious as ever. On the one hand, advocates point to the potential benefits of economic growth, poverty reduction, and gender empowerment, along with support from organizations like the WTO.

On the other hand, detractors emphasize the risks posed by double standards in trade rules, harmful policies towards African countries, and the negative impacts of natural resource extraction on development. Ultimately, while free trade can offer considerable opportunities for growth and progress, it must be implemented in a manner that ensures fairness, equity, and sustainability.


Q: Can free trade actually promote sustainable development? A: While free trade can increase economic growth, it is important to ensure it is implemented in a sustainable manner that protects the environment and promotes long-term social welfare.

Q: How can free trade benefit women? A: By creating opportunities for women to enter formal employment, increase female entrepreneurship, and access international markets on fair terms.

Q: How can free trade potentially harm African countries? A: By maintaining double standards in trade rules, promoting harmful policies that hinder growth, and by extracting natural resources like oil without proper benefit-sharing mechanisms.

Q: Is support for free trade unanimous among international organizations? A: No, there are organizations, and individuals who take a pragmatic approach or are outright opposed to free trade, due to its negative impacts on vulnerable countries and communities.

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