Business leaders call on governments to re-engage on trade reform

A global economic recovery can be built upon a trade recovery, 30 chief executives say

About 30 chief executives and chairpersons from some of the world’s biggest companies across 17 countries have called on governments to work through geopolitical tensions, re-engage on trade reform and refrain from protectionism.

The signatories, part of the World Economic Forum’s trade and investment community, called for higher global ambition for trade co-operation at the upcoming World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in December, according to a statement from the WEF.

“Business leaders are sending clear signals to policy makers that change is both necessary and achievable,” said Borge Brende, president of the WEF.

“In this ‘Trade for Tomorrow’ statement, leaders highlight the potential of trade and investment for recovery and development. They call for quick progress on health, digital, investment and environmental matters, and note that business can help with implementing reforms.”

On Thursday, more than 600 business leaders called on the G20 bloc of the world’s biggest economies to end support for coal and halve emissions by 2030.

The signatories of an open letter include energy companies such as Iberdrola, Acciona and Enel, as well as blue chips such as Unilever, Netflix, Volvo Cars and Natura & Co, the parent company of Avon, Aesop and The Body Shop. UAE companies such as Majid Al Futtaim are also part of the global call to take measures to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Seventy-five per cent of the global public supports expanding trade, but only half said they thought globalisation was good for their country, a drop of 10 percentage points since 2019, according to a recent Ipsos-World Economic Forum survey.

“We believe trade and investment support human development and that a global recovery can be built upon a trade recovery. Governments must creatively re-engage on trade reform and refrain from protectionism,” the business leaders said.

“Trade and investment empower people to exchange goods and services, find rewarding employment, enjoy consumer benefits and grow successful businesses. Trade and investment must support development and inclusion,” the statement said.

Some of the signatories include Marwan Al Sarkal, executive chairman of Sharjah Investment and Development Authority; Ajay Banga, executive chairman of Mastercard; Al Kelly Jr, chief executive and chairman of Visa; John Pearson, chief executive of DHL Express; and Tarek Sultan Al Essa, chief executive of Agility from Kuwait, among others.

Business leaders are sending clear signals to policy makers that change is both necessary and achievable
Borge Brende, president, World Economic Forum

The business leaders urged governments to strengthen healthcare access by lowering tariff and administrative barriers to trade in inputs and final products, facilitate global manufacturing investment, improve supply chain transparency and remove export restraints, among other needs.

They also urged world leaders to advance environmental agreements and reduce siloes between trade, environment and development policymaking by aligning trade action with Cop26 outcomes, according to the WEF statement.

The call to action also sought governments to pay special attention to the needs of women, MSMEs and developing countries.

Business leaders also asked governments to resolve level-playing-field concerns with respect to subsidies, state-owned enterprises and trade remedies, the statement said.

Updated: October 1st 2021, 5:22 AM