Against protectionism, a "different" globalization

14-06-2021 | Study

Trade conflicts and resurgent nationalisms threaten stability and growth around the world. But it is possible to counteract the drift by relaunching multilateralism that is more attentive to the needs of individuals and communities.

Harvard Business Review Italia

After the global crisis triggered by the pandemic, the world will have to face important challenges which will necessarily have to be tackled collectively and which are not confined to the economic sphere alone. Think, for example, of the fight against changes climatic, to the management of flows migratory, to the improvement of safety computer technology, and so on. On the economic side, protectionism returns after decades of progressive, albeit imperfect, commercial opening. This is the last of the three "waves" of globalization of the twentieth century, which showed an element of novelty compared to the previous two, namely the substantial increase in trade in emerging economies, as well as in advanced ones. The effects, as known, have not always been positive, or rather, they have not been positive for everyone. Globalization has indeed shown its limits with regard to the fair distribution of benefits, generating "winners" - especially the poor in emerging economies - and "losers" - primarily the middle class of advanced geographies.

In the same period there were two strong "waves" of criticism towards the globalization. The first, in the 1990s, had been led by left-wing political forces that wanted to defend the interests of the countries of the global South. In particular, the movements no-global they focused on the alleged negative effects of trade and capital movements on less developed economies. The second, started in the post-crisis period, and still ongoing, originated from right-wing movements to "defend" the economies of the North. Think of the tariffs introduced or threatened by the United States, Brexit, and more generally, the growing nationalist rhetoric that is affecting a good number of countries in Europe.

The impasse of multilateralism: an opportunity for Europe?

In this stalemate of multilateralism, Brussels it is increasingly becoming a leading player in promoting free trade. In fact, in recent years, the European Union (EU) has signed important commercial agreements, the most recent with Canada and Japan; other agreements are being negotiated, such as the one with the Mercosur area countries. It is a clear signal against the winds of protectionism which, moreover, allows the Old Continent to have a significant role in influencing the rules of world trade.

Furthermore, there are many non-European states that, on the one hand, do not approve of the approach of States United within international institutions, on the other hand, they are concerned by China's leadership ambitions in these fora, fears partly shared also by the EU, which, however, does not give up the path of dialogue with Beijing; or, again, they blame the geopolitical attitude of the Russia. In this context, the EU's commitment to cooperation makes it an attractive alternative hub for issues to be resolved in the multilateral forum. Europe also has a significant weight within existing commercial and financial institutions, such as the WTO and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Trump administration's attack on the WTO has already prompted the EU to come up with reform proposals for the body. Finally, the EU should aspire to a leading role in defining the rules of those sectors that are making a name for themselves on the global scene, such as technology, robotics and artificial intelligence.

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