Global business leader Mathias Döpfner offers a “compelling” (Gideon Rachman, chief foreign affairs columnist for Financial Times) and revolutionary road map to reshape global trade, strengthen our democracy, and safeguard our freedoms.
Freedom is on the decline around the world. Autocrats in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East are undermining our open societies, human rights, and the rule of law. The Russian invasion of Ukraine was a wake-up call for the West, but the biggest threat remains China. For two generations, Americans and Europeans have believed that change will come through trade, but instead of dictatorships becoming more like Western democracies, unfettered free trade has strengthened our enemies and undermined our countries. We are caught in a trade trap, faced with the decision to choose either opportunism and submission or opposition and emancipation.
In The Trade Trap, one of the world’s most powerful business leaders traces the rise and costs of Western dependency on China and Russia. And he suggests a radical new approach to free trade: The establishment of a new values-based alliance of democracies. Membership is based on the adherence to three very simple criteria: the rule of law, human rights, and sustainability targets. Countries that comply with these criteria can engage in tariff-free trade with others. Those who don’t will pay prohibitive tariffs.
Sharing the author’s encounters with major global figures including Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, George W. Bush, Angela Merkel, Jack Ma, and more, The Trade Trap offers personal insight into the dangerous consequences of doing business with autocrats along with a bold proposal for a values-based trade policy.
About the Author
Mathias Döpfner is the chairman and CEO of Axel Springer SE, owner of the US media brands Politico, Insider, and Morning Brew, and the largest digital publisher in Europe. He joined the company in 1998 as editor in chief of the German daily Welt and became CEO in 2002. Ever since, he has pushed the digital transformation to defend independent quality journalism. He is a member of the board of directors of Netflix and Warner Music Group, serves on the steering committee of the Bilderberg Meeting, and holds an honorary office on the American Jewish Committee. He studied musicology, German literature, and theatrical arts in Boston and Frankfurt, where he also completed his PhD.
"The prolonged attempt to spread democracy through economic globalization has ended in abject failure. Far from becoming more democratic, China and Russia have doubled down on their different brands of dictatorship, while the populist backlash against free trade threatens the stability of the Western democracies themselves. The only solution, Mathias Döpfner argues in this remarkable and original polemic, is radical decoupling—replacing the World Trade Organization with a new world order of free trade between the democracies, raising even further the barriers to trade with regimes that don’t uphold the rule of law, human rights, and clean energy. Enlivened by the author’s own first-hand encounters with authoritarian regimes, this book is guaranteed to incense those who still hope to salvage what is left of the old Washington consensus." —Niall Ferguson, Milbank Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution
"With a long perspective and a strong commitment to Atlantic values, Mathias Döpfner has issued a powerful call for Western self-renewal as one element of important domestic discussions." —Henry Kissinger, former U.S Secretary of State
"A bold proposal for the future, from one of the blue-flame thinkers of the West." —Scott Galloway, professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business and bestselling author of The Four
"Whether democracy will prevail depends on how the West deals with China, Russia, and other rising autocracies. Mathias Döpfner’s proposal for a new Trade Alliance is the best idea so far." —Bill Browder, author of the #1 New York Times bestsellers Red Notice and Freezing Order
"Mathias Döpfner is a man who thinks for himself. In our era of groupthink and cowardice, his voice is essential." —Bari Weiss, founder and editor of the Free Press
"The best way to deal with autocrats like Putin—and a much more constructive strategy than unilateral decoupling." —Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion and global human rights activist
"Mixing memoir and polemic, Döpfner makes a compelling case that trade with authoritarian countries has weakened the democratic world. His proposal for a Freedom Trade Alliance sounds impractical today but may seem like common sense in a few years time." —Gideon Rachman, chief foreign affairs columnist for the Financial Times
"The West is at a crossroads between dependence, derisking, and decoupling. Are any of these far-reaching enough to safeguard democracy? No. Mathias Döpfner proposes a new alliance that might stand a chance." —Eric Schmidt, former executive chairman & CEO of Google
"Döpfner issues a sharp warning about the danger of appeasement and charts an alternative path forward...The author punctuates the book with accounts of his meetings with leaders such as Putin, Helmut Kohl, and German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock. He presents a clear-minded, thought-provoking book, and he pulls no punches....the author focuses mostly on China, but he also offers plenty of insight on Russia and how the invasion of Ukraine altered the geopolitical landscape." —Kirkus Reviews
"Mathias Döpfner is the rare CEO who grasps the dangers democratic nations court when they do business with authoritarian regimes. Having directly engaged dictators during a remarkable career in journalism and business, he understands that nothing less than our prosperity and freedoms are at stake as a result of growing economic entanglements between democracies and autocracies. In this clarion call to the free world, Döpfner lays out a roadmap for democracies to leverage trade and other tools to push back against the deeply disturbing worldwide attacks on freedom." —Michael Abramowitz, president of Freedom House