[Read more session reports from WTO Public Forum 2017]
The session debated how cutting-edge technologies, such as blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI), can allow for international trade transactions and negotiations to advance.
The session started with the opening remarks of Mr Daniel Feffer, President of the International Chamber of Congress (ICC) Brazil, who reminded the audience about the history that brought about the creation of the ICC. He affirmed that the ICC’s founding vision is relates to the session, i.e. using new technologies in order to improve global trade and cross-border transactions. Moreover, he suggested that technological innovation could positively contribute to trade on three main dimensions: the re-designing of the letter of credit, owing to blockchain technology; improving the access of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to the global market by reducing transaction costs; and helping delegates in preparing negotiations. Finally, he added that big data can represent an effective tool for ‘de-politicising world trade’ as such a new tool can be useful in tackling the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
The event was moderated by Dr Marcos Troyjo, Director of BRICLab-CGEG at Columbia University, who opened the floor to the panellists by recalling that the history of the ITTI has always comprised various stakeholders coming from academia, the technical sector, and business.
Mr Stewart Jeacocke, Customs Lead – Global Government Center of Competence at IBM, explained the basic rationale behind blockchain technology: that is, a trusted digital ledger that can record multiple transactions and make copies available to the actors of the chain. He further considered the numerous benefits ofAI to cross-border trade. In particular, he specified that cognitive computing can help MSMEs in interpreting tariff schedules when exporting to a foreign country.
Amb. Rufus Yerxa, President of the US National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC), considered that the policy framework in which new technologies are to be regulated is still characterised by uncertainty, as policy makers have not fully addressed them yet. In particular, he considered that the main trade principle that has to be embedded in the policy framework is the facilitation of the flow of information among actors. He further called upon the WTO to regulate this new area of trade in the interest of public good, assuring that conflicting national regulations that could hinder global trade are not implemented.
Amb. Álvaro Cedeño Molinari, Permanent Mission of Costa Rica to the WTO, considered that while technological innovation has affected urban areas (creation of the so-called ‘smart cities’), very little innovation has involved the government sector. He clarified that ‘e-commerce, as we know it today, is essentially the same commerce as that of the last century. E-commerce is Trade 2.0’. He then specified that he considers blockchain to be the future of commerce. ‘Blockchain is e-commerce 2.0, it is the future’, he added.
Dr Marion Jansen, Chief Economist at the International Trade Centre (ITC), referred to the recently-published ‘New Pathways to E-commerce’ report and argued that the existing challenge is characterised by enabling MSMEs to access the global market. She considers blockchain technology to have the potential to reduce transaction costs for all the players involved in the value chain. However, she warned the audience about the lack of transparency and trust of such technology.
Dr Theresa Carpenter, Executive Director of the Graduate Institute's Centre for Trade and Economic Integration, stressed the important role of national governments vis-à-vis new technologies. She considered that ‘good governance starts at home’ and that international efforts in promoting and regulating new technologies are worthless if not accompanied by similar national policies.
Dr Jacques Marcovitch, Emeritus Professor at the Business Administration, Economy and Accountancy Faculty and Senior Professor of Strategy and International Affairs at the International Relations Institute at the University of São Paulo (USP), illustrated three main priorities that should be taken into consideration while regulating new technologies. First, it is necessary to pursue digital inclusion, as most of the broadband technology in Latin American is mainly concentrated around the coast and not the mainland. Second, governments have to increase their efforts in fostering security and trust towards these technologies. Third, education has a central role not only in teaching critical skills to the next generation, but also in conveying the correct values that need to be embedded in the system.
by Marco Lotti