Today the IIEL hosted a conversation with the World Economic Forum on the international trade agenda.  The forum was comprised of area trade experts and embassy delegates from some of the pivotal countries in the region, and benefitted from voices hailing from Europe, South America and Asia.  Here were some of the more interesting points:

  • First, most participants seemed to take the position that the German presidency of the G 20 can be viewed as a success, but only under the circumstances in which it was held. With growing angst about globalization, and trade, meetings and locales such as Baden-Baden could only highlight the fact that the political economy had changed– as perhaps most spectacularly seen in the exclusion of any language critical of protectionism. Instead, the presidency can be interpreted as an exercise largely in damage control, and the maintenance of global norms and expectations concerning cross-border coordination and cooperation for economic growth.
  • This leaves the Argentine WTO ministerial, as well as its pending presidency of the G 20 in an awkward position. For one, few expect much progress, much less a ground breaking announcement.  Instead, the size of bilateral trade deficits and surpluses will continue to inform state to state commercial relations, and political discussions, in not only the United States but in other major industrial countries.  Furthermore, questions abound as to whether US moves to thwart the appointment of new appellate body members could end up atrophying the institution, and even imperiling its credibility and centrality as a mechanism for a rules-based decisionmaking and policy implementation.
  • Even with NAFTA on the ropes, regionalism is alive and well. An EU-Mercosur trade agreement could very well spark further regional and bilateral deals not only in South America, but with other countries in Asia and Africa.  Furthermore, the Pacific Alliance in particular appears to have a very forward-looking orientation, and is seeking to establish itself as a leader in standard-setting and digital trade. Already, its provisions of digital trade are the most comprehensive of its kind in any multilateral or regional context, including NAFTA and the TPP.
  • A major issue involves what to do with what can be described as trade infrastructure. With issues concerning the digital economy in particular, more flexibility may be necessary since information is still being gathered about the needs of both commercial market participants and governments.  This raises the possibility of more “soft law” necessary in the furthering of US economic policy.
  • Still others noted that, in the end, much of the discontent with globalization is tied to issues that are domestic in nature, not international—like how to ensure the gains from globalization are distributed more equally within countries, and what kinds of policies need (and must) be implemented to assist low-skilled laborers affected by foreign competition. How to tie international policymaking to these kinds of questions is, however, extremely difficult, not just because of the skepticism of domestic politics projected by international elites, but also due to the skepticism domestic elites have to the international trade system, and the implications it periodically has for state sovereignty.
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