Weaponization of Trade

Publications of Staff and Associates of Equant Analytics:


I am very disappointed in China. Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars in trade a year yet…they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk. We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!” @RealDonaldTrump

International trade is about more than just economics, and not only for the US administration. Trade is about coercion and strategic influence. Since the Financial Crisis in 2008, the language around trade has shifted. Before, politicians described it as a benign mechanism for promoting global economic growth. Now their statements about trade are steeped in the rhetoric of war. Instead of global opportunities and wealth creation, politicians on both sides of the Atlantic talk about “protection,” “security,” “national interest,” and “defence”.  Former trade partners are now trade “enemies” – with “unfair” protectionist policies against which it is natural for any politician to rail.

Through this linguistic metamorphosis, it has become apparent that trade is being used as a tool of state strategy. Trade deals have foreign policy objectives. The UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, and the US President, Donald Trump, have both conflated trade goals with foreign policy goals. Theresa May, in her Article 50 letter to the President of the European Council triggering the UK’s exit from the European Union, suggested that a trade deal could be linked to UK participation in European security arrangements. Donald Trump has explicitly linked US discussions with China to the issue of North Korea’s nuclear programme.

This book argues that through this rhetorical shift, trade is being weaponized into a tool of strategic and political influence. Although “weaponization” is an inflammatory term, in the context of trade it can be used literally. Weaponization is the transformation of a benign instrument into a means of aggression and, increasingly, we have observed states wielding trade coercively. It is redolent of Carl von Clausewitz’s classic definition of war, first as the continuation of policy by another means, and second, through the supply of arms and ammunition to strategic partners, as an indirect “act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.” In short, through language, the character of trade has changed from an implicit tool of coercion to the explicit means through which foreign policy objectives are achieved.

This article is an extract of the influential book:


“The Weaponization of Trade: the Great Unbalancing of Politics and Economics” 

Rebecca Harding and Jack Harding
October 25th 2017 * 170pp paperback *£9.99
ISBN 978-1-907994-72-2

Available at a discounted rate via this link