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Mr Roberto Azevêdo, Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), made the opening remark that trade has a higher profile, and it has moved from the business pages to the front pages of newspapers. He noticed that trade and globalisation are used as interchangeable terms in the media but argued this should not be the case as migration is included in globalisation. A graph showing attitudes toward globalisation and trade in 2016 was presented which pointed out that, among the 23 countries that were included in the research, only 7 countries had a positive view on globalisation, while 22 countries perceived trade positively. He also addressed questions such as:

  • Are globalisation and trade in decline?
  • Is there a trade problem? If so, what is the alternative?
  • Is trade a convenient goal?
  • Is multilateralism a good system for trade? Or a bad system?
  • How can trading systems be improved to respond to the challenges?

Although trade is essential for growth, development and jobs, he stated that we have underestimated people’s dissatisfaction with the status quo regarding the benefits of trade. He suggested that we need to look behind the headlines, adapt, integrate, and listen to the concerns at the WTO Public Forum.

Mr Bruce Strokes, Director of Global Economic Attitudes at Pew Research Center, introduced a research on attitudes towards globalisation and trade done by Pew Research Center. It is important to acknowledge public opinion which can affect people’s lives, and to understand the content of public opinion, although there is evidence of an unwillingness to listen to public opinions in many political areas. The research indicated that people are feeling much better about the economic outlook. However, countries such as Mexico, South Africa, Nigeria, and Argentina showed a decline in positive perceptions.  Strokes stated that ‘globalisation is change on steroids and some people feel unease about that change’. The statistics also showed that 75% of the French, and 74% of Germans and Japanese are feeling uncomfortable with changes in their traditional lives caused by globalisation. In Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria, many believe that trade creates jobs and wages, while people in South Africa believe the contrary. He asked if the countries believe that trade leads to lower prices and found that, among the 14 countries in the research, only Australia believes so. In the U.S., Democrat supporters, who are mainly women, minorities and young people, supported the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) while many men aged over 50, who mostly didn’t support the FTA, have lost jobs in manufacturing.

Ms Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), talked about three main goals that are aspired to by policy makers in both public and private sectors: growth, productivity, and innovation. Although trade has reduced poverty and improved wages, the major drawbacks have been the creation of isolation and inequality within countries. Lagarde pointed out that the failure to address problems created by changes in technology and new ways of providing services is due to measures not being taken at the domestic level to implement mechanisms and policies. She gave the positive examples of Singapore, that has implemented a lifelong education cycle to adjust to changes, and Denmark, which has created active job market policies to help people to move on when changing jobs. Domestic policies should be created to prevent people from being excluded.

Ms Susana Malcorra, Minister Advisor, Government of the Argentine Republic, talked about the openness and closedness of economic growth in Argentina. When it comes to closedness, she expressed concerns about what the lack of planning and predictability means for a country with a closed border to the world. Poverty resulted as Argentina was denied the opportunity to be fully integrated, that was necessary to strengthen competitive advantage, create a supply chain, bring added value, reconvert an uncompetitive economy, invest in education, and implement sustainable government policies.     

Mr Paul Krugman, Distinguished Professor of the City University of New York Graduate Center, and columnist of The New York Times, noted economists in the 1990s were not able to adopt a view on the consequences of unequal income distribution in trade and wages among those without a college education. Krugman also shared his opinion on the differences in trade between small and big countries. Small countries have a bigger benefit from trade than big countries, although there will be no major consequences on losing trade for big countries like the USA.

Mr Strive Masiyiwa, Founder and Executive Chairman of Econet Group, stated that Africa is creating a small number of jobs which are not enough for young people and there are still 300 million young people without jobs. Africa has become an excluded region in the global trade chain. Based on Strive’s experience in expanding in Africa, there is evidence that the country is facing challenges as it has the lowest level of trade between countries.

Mr Naushad Forbes, Co-Chairman, Forbes Marshall, explained that integrating small firms in trade can create jobs. He recommended that we should help small firms to connect with other firms, and large firms should also help those small firms to invest in other countries. When discussing tariffs, he said there are arguments in favour of tariffs.

During the Q&A sessions, there was a discussion about why the least developed countries remain as developing countries. The reasons suggested were lack of good education, social institutions, and infrastructure. A question on how women played a vital role in trade was asked and Lagarde gave an example of how South Korea has improved trade by removing discrimination and including women in jobs, and that has led to a better position in export. The panel concluded by giving the message that, as the benefits from trade are related to human wellbeing, to get those benefits, we need to adjust tools and systems by working together at the global level. It is important to include those who are excluded, improve the pace of adjustment, and tighten the rules for those who are involved.

by Aye Mya Nyein

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WTO Public Forum 2017

WTO Public Forum 2017

The World Trade Organization's (WTO) Public Forum provides a platform for participants to discuss the latest developments in world trade and to propose ways of enhancing the...