Global Trade 2018
Protectionism, power dynamics and changing priorities
Global trade is in flux. The prospect of protectionist trade policies, particularly in the United States with President Trump’s new trade strategy, fast-evolving new technologies reshaping the trade landscape, and uncertainty about the UK’s future trade relationships – with the EU and beyond – suggests a global trade system that faces more uncertainty than at any time since the Second World War.
Without US support for open market principles, the divergent interests of other countries and trading blocs, including China, Japan and the EU, will make substantial alignment on global trade negotiations and governance difficult. With global trade dynamics undergoing such a major shift, this is a critical time to take stock and assess the effect on trade policies now and in the longer term. This Chatham House conference will assess key questions including:
- Can the current structures for global trade governance withstand this period of uncertainty?
- What are the major structural risks to the global trade system?
- Will recent political developments – including Brexit and the Trump presidency – lead to longer-term protectionist policies on international trade?
- What new trade patterns and relationships are likely to emerge globally and how might they shift national influence?
- What does an increase in service-based and digital trade mean for the global economy, and how should trade agreements accommodate their growth?
The Chatham House Rule
To enable as open a debate as possible, this conference will be held under the Chatham House Rule.
Thursday 1 November
Session One | Political Disruption and the Impact of the United States’ Trade Strategy
This opening session will examine the potential disruption that might be caused by increased protectionist policies by the United States, including tariffs, renegotiation or withdrawal from trade agreements and blocking of the smooth functioning of the WTO.
- How much impact have President Trump’s announcements of new tariffs on China and other markets had on the global economy?
- Will President Trump’s negotiating strategy in implementing tariffs and reviewing existing trade agreements such as NAFTA achieve its intended goals? Will the tactic of staking out a maximalist position and carving out numerous ‘ad hoc’ exemptions lead to greater inefficiency and/or corruption?
- To what extent is the WTO dispute-resolution mechanism currently fit for purpose in an environment of increased protectionism? How have Trump’s threats to pull out of the organization and his blocking of new appointments to its appellate body affected it?
- Is this trend towards greater protectionism limited to the Trump presidency, or will it persist in the US for the medium to long term?
Session Two | The State of Global Trade – Bright Spots and Structural Risks
This session will address the current state of global trade beyond the United States, examining the macroeconomic picture, who the systemic players are and the potential for new trade agreements to alter the landscape.
- Have the factors that led to the decline in the total volume of global trade in 2015 and 2016 been left behind? How important is China in explaining the continued increase in global trade volumes?
- What is the feasibility of maintaining and enhancing trade agreements not involving the US, such as TPP11 and the EU–Japan free trade agreements?
- What is the current outlook for greater trade liberalization in emerging markets? Are the market access and state aid issues that stalled the Doha Round any closer to being resolved? Is the Alianza del Pacífico likely to succeed in promoting greater trade and integration in its region, and can it serve as an example for other emerging markets?
- Has the increase in protectionist measures coming from the United States provoked a backlash by the EU and other major trading partners? Could this extend beyond the US, to a larger cooling of trade?
Session Three | Technology, Services and Data Trade
This session will focus on the growing importance of ‘intangible’ trade in services and in data and the adequacy of global standards on regulation of trade in these areas. It will also examine the potential for technological improvements to modify the existing trade system.
- Will technological innovations such as blockchain be able to streamline customs checks and verification processes, such as rules of origin, product standards and other administrative processes associated with cross-border trade? Could this be scaled sufficiently to markedly increase trade volumes? Are there regulatory barriers to adopting this technology?
- Will traditional rule-making be able to keep up with new digital businesses? Are the rules governing trade in services still fit for purpose?
- Are current efforts to lower non-tariff barriers to services trade likely to make meaningful progress?
- As data becomes a more important commodity, are the emerging international rules on trade in data protection and data governance conducive to promoting international trade in data? Is trade in data likely to become a significant portion of global trade?
Session Four | Brexit and the Future of Global Trade
This closing session will explore the negotiation and implementation of the UK’s future trade relationship with the EU, as well as the macroeconomic effects it will have on the global economy.
- What are the most significant trade barriers that a post-Brexit settlement is likely to create for UK-EU trade? How much is trade likely to be adversely affected in the final relationship? How much disruption to global supply chains is likely to occur?
- Will the implementation/transition period provide sufficient time for exporters and importers to adapt to the new trading rules? What sort of disruption can be expected?
- If the UK leaves the Customs Union, does technological development have the potential to mitigate or resolve the issues faced by new customs barriers? Can the UK become a leader in promoting these technologies?
- Will the UK’s strength in services exports have the potential to provide a new model for competitiveness? What can be done to promote this and what other sectors can the UK government focus on?
1730 Close of conference and reception hosted by Chatham House
© The Royal Institute of International Affairs 2018
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The Chatham House Rule
To enable as open a debate as possible, this event will be held under the Chatham House Rule.