We Have Bigger Problems Than Brexit

January 11, 2019

London 11th January 2019

By Chris Southworth, ICC United Kingdom Secretary General 

While we all focus on the big vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal in Parliament next Tuesday, the rest of the world is preparing to discuss the world’s challenges at Davos on 22-25 January. It may surprise some in the UK that Brexit isn’t even on the radar for many. There are far bigger concerns around the survival of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and need for trade reform, the US-China trade war, falling investment and the willingness of governments to add more barriers to trade. All of these will impact on everyone’s economies, so it is time to raise our sights beyond Brexit and re-engage with the rest of the world.

There are rays of hope. There is a serious effort to look at trade reform at the WTO. Much of our trading system was created in a different time so there is a wide recognition of the need to modernize and update the rules in which we all operate. Allowing the WTO to dissolve is not an option. It would be akin to removing all the rules and infrastructure for driving worldwide. It would be chaos. The new Global Dialogue on Trade coordinated by ICC with support from G20, the WTO, World Bank and International Monetary Fund is a perfect example of a positive initiative to bring the voice of business to the reform table and one we should all support.

We are also hoping for an announcement at Davos on the launch of formal negotiations for an ecommerce agreement, a once in a generation opportunity to change the game in the digitization of the world economy. We all know it is needed but we have never had 90 governments around the table prepared to do a global deal. The current rules were agreed in 1998, the same year Google was created and long before we all had smartphones but haven’t been updated since so the potential for modernization and transformative growth is enormous, especially for small companies and emerging markets where mobile phones are now the primary technology for the movement of money and communication for many.

G20 will be tough this year with a much-shortened cycle but this grouping still represents 85% of global trade and 70% of the world’s population so we need to find a way to engage effectively with it. Japan, as host, will no doubt bring a rigorous focus to the world’s top trade and economic issues which is exactly what we need and exactly why G20 was established in the first place. It’s an opportunity to re-focus on the priorities build momentum around the big issues affecting us all.

Whatever the issues facing the UK, we can’t afford to stand still and naval gaze. It feels, at times, like we have been on a hamster wheel for two years with little to show for it with the rest of the world marching on without us. Whether the UK is in or out of the EU, we can and should be playing a more prominent role in shaping a modern trading system. We have the heritage, skills and resources to play this role but it’s not much help if we don’t have the bandwidth to engage and be effective. In the political vacuum, there is a clear space for the business community to step forward and assert its voice. Institutions and governments do listen when business comes forward with a clear message backed with practical examples of what works and what doesn’t.

ICC has always been a powerful rallying point for the private sector, galvanizing engagement and convening relevant stakeholders. Last year, G20 engagement was up over 50% for big companies and over 30% for small companies. We also convened the largest UK delegation to the WTO and are playing a leading role in helping to shape the digital trade agenda. We are making a positive impact everywhere we go. We just need to do more of it with more of us and across a wider spectrum of sectors and activities.

Editor’s Note

ICC is the largest world business organisation representing 45 million companies and 1 billion employees in over 100 countries and the only business organisation with UN Observer Status. ICC United Kingdom is the representative office of ICC in the UK and works with British business groups worldwide to represent the voice of British business at inter-governmental level - the United Nations, G20 and World Trade Organization.





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