At the same time, economies of scale and scope have driven down relative trade costs, which have fallen by 85percent between the early 1800s and now, opening up a world of opportunity. However, this process has not all been smooth sailing (pun intended), with regular outbreaks of trade wars over the centuries. The most recent episode is the trade war that has broken out between the US and China.
And with US President Donald Trump threatening to raise import duties on an additional $267billion (R4trillion) worth of Chinese products, it is worth pausing to reflect on what the trade wars of the past can teach us about the likely outcomes of the current dispute, especially as South Africa seems likely to get caught up in the crossfire.
Despite Twitter claims to the contrary, lessons from the past reveal trade wars seldom produce winners and more often than not, the results leave both sides battle-bruised, scarred and worse off for the affair. In fact, the comic names of many of these trade tiffs - the Battle of the Bananas, the Pasta Spat, Chicken Friction - not only belie the animosity invariably surrounding these disputes, but also their damaging consequences.
Instead, history teaches us that past trade disputes have led to heightened geopolitical tension and dampened global economic growth, which in turn have sparked social crises, wars and economic depressions. Take, for example, one of the most famous trade wars of the modern era, initiated under the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930. In an eerie parallel to current events, this act was passed by US lawmakers with the promise of protecting American jobs, particularly in the agricultural sector.