You have now seen the moving picture of half a world in process of significant change, wrought by clash of arms, and facing a complete economic readjustment with peace. Whether the Paris Pact is practical or visionary, no matter if England is free trade or protectionist, regardless of Germany’s ability to find herself industrially at once, one thing we do know—the end of the war will find the Empire of World Trade molten and in the remaking.
Fresh paths must be shaped; the race will be to the best-prepared. Whatever our position, be it neutral or belligerent—and no man can tell which now—we shall face a supreme test of our resource and our readiness. What can we do to meet this crisis, which will mean continued prosperity or costly reaction?
Many things; but they must be done now, when immunity from actual conflict gives us a merciful leeway. More than ever before, we shall face united business fronts. Therefore, co-operation among competitors is necessary to a successful foreign trade.
Since the coming trade war will rage round tariffs, it will be well to heed the resolution recently adopted by the National Foreign-Trade Council: “That the American tariff system, whatever be its underlying principle, shall possess adequate resources for the encouragement of the foreign trade of the United States by commercial treaties or agreements, or executive concessions within defined limits, and for its protection from undue discrimination in the markets of the world.” In short, we must have a flexible and bargaining tariff.
We must train our men for foreign-trade fields; they must know alien languages as well as needs; we must perfect processes of packing that will deliver goods intact. With these goods, we must sell goodwill through service and contact. Secondhand-business getting will have no place in the new rivalry.
Our money, too, must go adventuring, and courage must combine with capital. Our dawning international banking system, which first saw the light in South America, needs world-wide expansion. Dollar credit will be a world necessity if we capitalise the opportunity that peace may bring us. No financial aid should be so welcome as ours, because it is nonpolitical.
This trade machinery will be inadequate if we have no merchant marine. Chronic failure to heed the warning for a national shipping will make our dependence upon foreign holds both acute and costly.
Our trade needs more than a government professedly friendly to business. It requires a definite co-operation with business. An advisory board of practical men of commercial affairs would be of more constructive benefit to the country than all the lawmakers combined.
Here, then, is the protection against organised European economic aggression, the armour for the inevitable trade conflict. Unless we gird it on, we shall be onlookers instead of participants.