In a live interview today with Australia’s Sky News, ICC Secretary General-elect John W.H. Denton AO told presenter Ticky Fullerton that, as he takes the helm of an organisation with nearly a century of history, the political context surrounding world trade has reached a critical juncture.
“I’m taking on a legacy of 100 years of business seeking to build better communities, create profit and drive economic growth, but the actual context in which we operate has completely changed,” Mr Denton said.
At a moment when new tariffs imposed by the United States on steel and aluminium imports have spooked markets and sparked renewed fears of a looming trade war, Mr Denton argued that it was time, more than ever, to communicate the benefits of world trade for all and establish global trading rules for the twenty-first century.
“President Trump and his administration are not fans of multilateralism,” Mr Denton noted. “What we’re saying is that there is still great value to be had for the world—and for the US—in maintaining the predictable and regular nature of world trade.
“Having an orderly system enabling world trade […] has been a key driver of economic growth and taking people out of poverty. The crown jewel of this system is the way in which disputes have been resolved in a predictable manner through the WTO [World Trade Organisation] dispute process.”
Twenty-first century trade agenda
Asked what steps should be taken to move beyond current stalemates on trade and globalisation, Mr Denton identified three elements.
First, stakeholders should issue a robust defence of the multilateral trading system but in a good faith environment “where measured discussions can take place”. This means noting real institutional or market challenges to current trading relationships while upholding the fundamental importance of the WTO—something clearly recognised by the global business community.
“Businesses want to maximise their supply chains with efficiencies that come through having access to an open trading system. US businesses and the US economy have been net beneficiaries of a successful and functioning WTO” said Mr Denton.
Second, the WTO needs “a new agenda that makes sense for the twenty-first century”, and which demonstrates the institution’s positive role in enabling job creation, economic growth and sustainable development.
For instance, a defining challenge of our time is how to better share the gains of globalisation and make trade more inclusive. Solutions to this challenge, Mr Denton argued, will necessarily come through new global rules for the digital economy, particularly regarding e-commerce.
“You’re not going to get that on a bilateral basis [but] only through a multilateral agreement and the WTO is best. The WTO, like any organisation and any system, needs to reinvent itself on a continual basis, and it’s trying to.”
An extraordinary opportunity
Finally, business needs to be engaged in economic policymaking at every level, sharing its expertise to develop holistic solutions to global challenges.
“There is a realisation that states themselves can’t solve everything,” Mr Denton said. “ICC has now been identified as the representative throughout the United Nations for all of the private sector.
“It’s an interesting recognition by the [international community] that they need the voice of the private sector. What it says is that public policy is richer when the private sector is engaged in its formation.”