Bloomberg Forum Highlights Business-Government Cooperation to Meet Global Challenges

8 November 2018

The inaugural Bloomberg New Economy Forum wrapped up in Singapore this week, bringing together world business and political leaders to broach imminent challenges around global governance, international trade, technology, climate change, and inclusion against an evolving global economic backdrop. 

The Forum aims to harness the role of business to work collaboratively with governments in providing solutions to major global challenges, including inequality, conflict, food insecurity, exponential population growth, migration, disruptions from technological innovation, and global warming. Organisers say that such partnerships would contribute to promoting stability and economic growth and to making full and effective use of technological advancements for inclusive development. 

“We are facing the challenge of insufficient governance…in a world of an increasingly complicated structure of interests, rapid development of new technologies and economies, and profound evolution of the international landscape,” said Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan, keynote speaker, at the opening of the event. 

“The existing governance mechanisms of the world lag behind economic globalisation and technological advances,” he added, with business inputs and leadership needed to help fix these gaps. Moreover, the increasing uncertainty on the policy and political front could have damaging implications for sustainable growth, he said. 

Kicking off the two-day meeting on Monday, company founder Michael Bloomberg underscored public-private cooperation to ensure that global economic benefits are shared, including by fostering the skills demanded in changing labour markets, improving economic opportunities for women and disadvantaged groups, and cutting emissions that contribute to climate change. 

“We’re aiming to come up with solutions that are practical, realistic, and easy to copy in cities and countries around the world,” he said in his opening remarks. Bloomberg is a former mayor of New York City, a philanthropist and activist, and a UN Special Envoy for Climate Action. 

The Forum focuses also on new poles of economic influence, such as in emerging economies, where rapid growth has often perpetuated new opportunities for businesses and improved living standards. “Still, economic growth in emerging economies also creates new challenges in how we address issues around trade, technology, intellectual property, capital markets, and common societal challenges, such as public health and climate change,” he said. 

The contribution of emerging economies to global growth is driving changes to international trade and established industrial structures, Wang said. 

Trade tensions

On Monday, Wang underscored the importance of international cooperation, coupled with domestic reform and opening up. “In such a world of uncertainties, one thing that is certain is the trend of economic globalisation and multilateralism,” he said. 

The deep and abrupt changes in the global economy have contributed to divisive domestic political environments, Wang said. “The polarisation of right-leaning populism has manifested itself in political demands, which has led to unilateral policies against globalisation and seriously affected the international political ecosystem.” 

Viable and long-lasting solutions, however, rest on improved economic ties between Beijing and Washington, with Wang pledging to strive for “mutual benefit” and expressing readiness to pursue a solution that would satisfy both global economic giants. 

“It is our firm belief that China and the US will both gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation,” he said, finding common ground and citing trade as the “anchor and propeller of China-US relations.” 

China and the US have been experiencing mounting trade tensions over the past year, with the US imposing tariffs on several billion dollars’ worth of Chinese goods, and China responding in kind. The US has justified the bulk of these tariffs as necessary for tackling concerns over alleged forced technology transfers and discriminatory licensing practices, among others. China, in turn, has sharply criticised the move and approach, and called for cooperation while also imposing tariffs of various imported American products worth around US$110 billion, according to Bloomberg and US Census Bureau data

US President Donald Trump will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Argentina at the end of the month. Trump has reportedly tasked administration officials with sketching the terms of a possible agreement to mitigate trade tensions in anticipation of the meeting. 

“If the world order becomes defined by continuous conflict between the US and China, sooner or later it risks getting out of control,” Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State and national security adviser, said on Tuesday at the Forum. 

Trade tensions and uncertainty could contribute to lowering global economic growth prospects and may undo some of the progress seen in the economic recovery, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other international agencies recently revising their growth forecasts for 2018 and 2019 downward. The IMF now forecasts growth this year and next at 3.7 percent, according to the October version of its semi-annual World Economic Outlook. The WTO has similarly revised its trade growth forecasts to reflect additional risks. (See Bridges Weekly, 11 October 2018

“The world would be in terrible shape” should trade issues pass into “strategic conflict,” said Kissinger, according to comments reported by the Bloomberg news outlet. “I think we have high incentives to avoid catastrophe.” 

WTO modernisation

In addition, several speakers weighed in on the subject of WTO modernisation, which has been gaining momentum in trade circles, with the establishment of various working groups on the subject.

The drive among various members to advance talks on WTO reform has also drawn the public backing of G20 trade and investment ministers, who endorsed a joint communiqué in September that referred to the urgent need for boosting confidence in the health and resilience of the global trade system. (See Bridges Weekly, 20 September 2018)

The Bloomberg New Economy global survey results released in the lead-up to the conference in October, surveying 2000 private sector representatives in 20 developed and emerging markets, saw the vast majority, at nearly three-quarters of those interviewed, hopeful “that the global system of trade might be restored, though only in the long term.”

“The WTO has almost become too big to avoid failing,” said Peter Mandelson, a former EU Trade Commissioner.

Wang added his voice on a potential role for China. “As a staunch supporter of the multilateral trading regime, China will implement trade and investment liberalisation and facilitation policies of high standards, and support needed reform of the WTO,” he said.

ICTSD reporting; “Trump Asks Cabinet to Draft Possible Trade Deal With China,” BLOOMBERG, 2 November 2018; “China VP Wang Qishan Keynote at New Economy Forum,” BLOOMBERG, 6 November 2018; “Here’s What’s Coming Up at Day Two of the New Economy Forum,” BLOOMBERG, 6 November 2018; “We are living in an age of unprecedented risks,” FINANCIAL TIMES, 6 November 2018; “China says ready for U.S. talks, sees no winners in trade war,” REUTERS, 6 November 2018; “Kissinger ‘Fairly Optimistic’ China, U.S. Can Avoid Catastrophe,” BLOOMBERG, 6 November 2018; “China's Trade Olive Branch Can't Dispel Fears of Clash With U.S.,” BLOOMBERG, 6 November 2018.

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