Today’s trade policies, tomorrow’s prosperity
Those under the age of 25 – which today make up half of the world’s population – will by 2030 have grown up to become breadwinners for themselves and their families. They will have to make their living amid the technological advances, environmental strains and prevailing economic conditions of their time. In many ways, the future they will inherit tomorrow depends on the policies put in motion today, including those focused on trade.
Much of the current discussions on trade touch on the impact that technology and connectivity will have on the global landscape. The internet, for example, is opening up more opportunities for small businesses. Three-dimensional printing is introducing novel ways of delivering physical goods across borders. Innovative products increasingly blend software services with the accompanying merchandise. All of these developments pose interesting policy questions for trade.
World Trade Organization (WTO) members have forged the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), which contains provisions aimed at easing and speeding the movement of goods across borders. WTO economists have cited the TFA’s importance for smaller entrepreneurs with limited resources, which stand to gain from improved trading procedures including internet-enabled payments for customs fees and web access to export and import information.
Furthermore, the WTO extended the practice of not imposing customs duties on electronics transmissions for another two years during the 11th Ministerial Conference (MC11) last December. Groups of WTO members also announced they would initiate exploratory work on trade-related aspects of electronic commerce as well as on micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), with discussions open to the wider membership. Technology and its implications on trade are thus featuring much more in WTO debates, the outcomes of which will certainly be important to tomorrow’s traders.
Today’s youth will also have to grapple with environmental issues in the future, many of which will be passed on from the generations before them. Here, trade can have an important role as well. An open and transparent global trading system can make it easier and cheaper to assemble and access green technologies. It can facilitate the dismantling of subsidies harmful to the environment. It is thus an important catalyst for sustainable development.
WTO members, taking up the mantle, are hard at work negotiating an agreement to limit government subsidies harmful to the world’s fisheries. They wrapped up MC11 with a commitment to seal a deal on fisheries subsidies, which delivers on United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14.6 by the end of 2019. United Nations Environment Executive Director Erik Solheim and WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo launched last January a new dialogue to strengthen the partnership between the trade and environment communities. The first initiative under this joint effort will be a high-level forum on trade and environment to be held in October.
Finally, there is the issue of the world economic outlook. In the short term, trade is expected to remain strong in 2018 and 2019 as long as robust global economic growth continues and governments pursue appropriate policies. This forecast, however, could be undermined by restrictive trade policies. History has already borne out the ensuing damage of trade wars and protectionism as experienced in the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The resilience of the rules-based multilateral trading system will play an important role in determining the future well-being of people around the world. With the help of trade, consumers, workers and ordinary citizens have already gained higher living standards, lower costs and increased earnings. With the help of the multilateral trading system the world economy is providing the stability it needs to thrive. ‘The system is not perfect,’ DG Azevêdo has said. ‘But it is the best we have. And we are all going to regret very deeply should it ever cease to function.’
These same issues will feature at the WTO Public Forum to be held 2-4 October, where sessions will focus on considering what trade will look like in 2030 and beyond. The Public Forum’s sub-themes will be sustainable trade; technology-enabled trade; and a more inclusive trading system.
It is hoped these discussions will continue to feed into the trade agenda and help chart the way for safeguarding the welfare of people in the years to come. The prospects for young people tomorrow are in our hands today.