JFTC Essay Competition

Remarks by the Selection Committee Chair, Mr. Atsushi Nakajima

In the 13th annual Japan Foreign Trade Council (JFTC) Essay Competition held this year, we received 266 essays, the highest number ever recorded. What was notable in this essay competition was that essays from both overseas and young applicants made up a much larger proportion of the total than ever before. Applicants from a wider range of countries, 64 countries in total, joined the competition, and essays from overseas accounted for 89% of the total. Furthermore, I am very pleased to find applications from individuals from a wider age range, 11 years old to 80 years old, with 65% of the essays written by young people in their teens and 20s.

This year’s competition topic was "The Ideal Future Free Trade System – Tasks and Solutions –” A free trade regime promotes free international transactions of goods and services and contributes to economic development. On the other hand, it could lead to widening economic disparities, an increase in unemployment, or the collapse of some industries. Particularly in recent years, during which the global economy has slowed down, a wave of trade protectionism has been spreading. Under these international circumstances, we asked the contestants to sort out the advantages and disadvantages of a free trade regime, and discuss how to increase the former and decrease the latter. At the same time, as this year marks the 70th anniversary of JFTC, we encouraged them to include some analyses of and suggestions on the roles of trading companies in a free trade regime in their discussions.

In reference to this topic, many essays pointed out that a free trade regime was an excellent framework, because it helped each country to export the goods in which it had a comparative advantage to world markets, thereby achieving economic growth. On the basis of this, some emphasized that it was important for individual nations to protect and nurture infant industries of developing countries as well as uncompetitive industries of their own, without undermining the free trade regime. There were also a number of essays which pointed out that it was essential to train people who were likely to lose their jobs unless measures were taken to find a job in a competitive industry, and that governments should strive to make the public understand that despite the disadvantages of free trade, it was superior to trade protectionism and promote international cooperation.

Since many strong, high quality essays were submitted in this year’s competition, it was difficult to say which was better. Nevertheless, focusing not only on logic to pursue arguments and the authors’ writing skills, but also on originality and the persuasiveness of arguments, we selected three essays for the Prize for Excellence and one for the Selection Committee Chair’s Special Prize. Unfortunately, no essay won the Grand Prize, as was the case last year. The results appear to suggest that, in asking contestants to consider the issue of a free trade regime, the topic this time made it all the more difficult for them to put forward views which were different from those of other people.

In closing my address as the Selection Committee Chair, I would like to express my wholehearted gratitude to the vice chairs, the Selection Committee, and the people of the JFTC for their time in reviewing a large number of essays and providing constructive and fair evaluations. For the remarks on each prize-winning essay, please refer to the section below.

The Prize for Excellence
Ms. Anna Lee Ali:
Is free trade the best policy?

The author argues that free trade has the advantages of: 1) increasing the public’s real purchasing power, especially that of low-income earners; 2) contributing to the expansion of business opportunities and creation of jobs, thereby promoting economic growth; and 3) contributing to world peace and stability by creating closer economic ties between countries. At the same time, the author mentions the advantages of trade protectionism, including protecting infant industries and buying time for the revitalization of declining industries, as well as the disadvantages of free trade, such as expanding income disparities and increasing the tendency to place the utmost importance on commercial interests. The author concludes that although being good, free trade is not the best option from a realistic perspective, and that it is vital to revise the free trade regime by taking into account the actual circumstances of individual countries and review the WTO rules.

The author summarizes the advantages and disadvantages of free trade in a logical manner. In particular, a variety of well-presented verification analyses, economic theories, and points of view are convincing. Furthermore, this fine essay is written in readable English and balanced without placing a disproportionate emphasis on either the pros or the cons of free trade. It would have been a perfect essay if the author could have put forward some more analyses and views of her own in addition to the quotations.

The Prize for Excellence
Dr. Jan-Ulrich Rothacher:
The Japan-EU FTA – A blueprint for improving the global trade regime

Referring to free trade and trade protectionism, the author concludes that the best solution is a multilateral FTA, with the second best being a bilateral FTA. He takes a look at the TPP and TTIP, emphasizing that cooperation and public consent are key to economic partnerships, citing the Japan-EU EPA as an example, and argues that the Japan-EU EPA will serve as a model of closer economic partnership in the future.

Unlike many other contestants who discuss free trade as a whole, the author discusses the topic focusing on the individual case of the Japan-EU EPA. Overall, he puts forward the benefits of free trade and a free trade agreement in a logical and positive manner, and his argument that the Japan-EU EPA will lead the world going forward in place of the WTO is interesting.

Although the author takes a unique approach in focusing on the individual case of the Japan-EU EPA, the essay would have been much better if the author could have discussed free trade from a broader perspective and suggested how to manage the negative effects of free trade and the increasing tendency toward trade protectionism, which was asked the contestants to do.

The Prize for Excellence
Ms. Sachiko Stone:
Restructuring the Japanese Economy through Opening Markets – For Economic Growth in a Depopulating Society

The author contends that free trade is advantageous as it helps individual countries to achieve economic development through optimum use of their respective capabilities and facilitates their efforts for productivity improvement. On the other hand, pointing out the negative aspects of free trade, i.e., job losses and a widening wage gap, the author suggests that in order to capitalize on the advantages and minimize the disadvantages of free trade, we must enhance regular education through collaboration between industry, educational institutions, and the government, promote work style reform as well as reform of industries which have long been under protection such as agriculture, and improve the environment for foreign direct investment in Japan. The author then concludes that we can restructure the Japanese economy and achieve sustainable growth by making the Japanese market open.

This is a readable and well-organized essay. In offering an argument in a logical manner, the author is not exclusively devoted to principles or logic, but sees the issue of free trade from the viewpoint of the citizens, which makes the essay understandable and the proposed solutions concrete. It would have been a perfect essay if the author could have looked at the issue of free trade focusing not only on the Japanese market, but also from a broader perspective, and provided possible solutions in a systematic and organized manner.

The Selection Committee Chair’s Special Prize
Ms. Surabhi Chaturvedi:
Free Trade: Satisfying the Double Co-incidence of Economic and Social Wants
in the Twenty-First Century

Going back in time to the mythical era, the author traces the history of ideas and theories of free trade. Subsequently, the author explores the advantages of free trade over trade protectionism, centering around the theory of comparative advantage, and insists that in order to create a model of free trade which will eliminate the advantages of protectionism, we must increase the variety of tradable goods and simultaneously establish a mechanism for accumulating the bargaining power of small businesses and diversification of risk. Then, pointing out that Japanese trading companies can function as a mechanism enabling accumulation of bargaining power and diversification of risk, the author proposes a cooperative-type trading company model.

While many essays examine the pros and cons of free trade from an economic perspective, what is special about this essay is that it looks at the free trade regime from historical, political, and diplomatic viewpoints as well. Moreover, although its viability remains questionable, the suggestion that trading companies can function as a mechanism which will prevent developing countries from suffering competitive disadvantages under a free trade regime is unique. Considering that protectionist moves have been spreading in recent years, it would have been much better if the author had provided more concrete solutions. However, the argument that trade companies’ functions can make up for the disadvantages of free trade is interesting, and the essay deserves the Special Prize.