A wave of unbridled exhilaration rips through Hong Kong this morning as Asia’s world city wakes to the news that its visionary leaders are set to negotiate a free trade agreement with Lichtenstein. Despite its modest size (population: 35,000), the plucky little Principality, nestling in the verdant bosom of the Alps between Switzerland and Austria, is in fact the world’s largest exporter of false teeth and sausage casings. Is it any wonder that the citizens of the Big Lychee are in such a heightened state of anticipation? Not in our wildest dreams were we expecting Santa Claus to give us tariff-free dental fixtures and forcemeat wrappings.
But wait a moment. A detailed and painstaking examination of all the relevant small print reveals a massive loophole: we don’t have any trade barriers against the wide range of life-improving goods and services churned out by the mighty Lichtenstein export machine, or any other nation come to that. Hong Kong has been a free port since 1842. We pay no duty on overseas products entering our market and make no attempt to protect local producers from foreign competition. So what sort of free trade negotiation is this going to be?
Perhaps quite a short one, even though the Lichtenstinian emissary will be joined by his EFTA counterparts from Switzerland, Norway and Iceland as he leans across the table and gives the Hong Kong trade official the bad news. “Herr Chan,” he will say, “as you are already allowing our false teeth, our cheese mit holes, our colourful vooly hats mit dangling bits and our vhale blubber into your jurisdiction tariff-free, vould you mind telling us vhat concession you vill make if ve agree to reduce our highly protectionist taxes on imported Aces Go Places DVDs, ja?” And Chan will be left mumbling something about measures against the dumping of collectable Hello Kitty dolls.
Under the British, the Big Lychee took an intensely snotty view of free trade agreements, self-righteously waving away any talk of bilateral deals and insisting that only global, multilateral lifting of barriers to commerce made sense. It was a magnificent and heart-stirring combination of ‘holier than thou’, ‘holier than absolutely everywhere’, ‘you need us more than we need you’ and ‘take your domestic market and shove it’. Now, our officials grovel for a pointless bit of paper to sign because they think it makes them look important.
The aerial photo shows the swinging Lichtenstineisch capital, Vaduz (population 5,000), with the famous Schloss circled. It is from inside this sinister and gloomy castle that the mad, dwarflike Archduke Franken von Pappen von Bulow XIII issues edicts demanding that his clog-wearing, cuckoo-eating subjects meet ever-higher production targets to enable him to succeed in his evil plot to flood the world with cheap Lichtenstinite-made dentures.