An event that was scheduled to take place in parallel to the WTO's MC12 highlighted that globalisation narratives have evolved and impacted international trade policy governance.
Two experts suggested distinguishing the fundamental value conflicts—growth vs.
sustainability, efficiency versus social stability—that drive disagreement and illustrating where rival narratives converge.
A discussion titled, “The Multilateral Trade Regime in Contending Narratives about Economic Globalization” and organised by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), Queen’s University, and Australian National University, discussed how globalisation narratives have evolved and impacted international trade policy governance. In addition, the panel addressed the potential of multilateralism in the future, and discussed how countries will reconcile competing globalisation narratives while confronting the issue of inequality and global sustainability objectives.
This event took place as part of IISD’s TRADE + SUSTAINABILITY HUB. The Hub took place from 1-3 December 2021, and convened over 50 partners, 150 speakers, and 1800 registered participants from civil society, government, business, and international organizations to discuss how to ensure trade policies contribute to sustainable development. The Hub was scheduled to coincide with the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Twelfth Ministerial Conference and took place virtually despite the last-minute postponement of MC12.
Nathalie Bernasconi, Executive Director of IISD Europe, underlined the importance of discussing and understanding different narratives. She also highlighted how understanding the underlying conflicting values and disagreements can help foster a more collaborative and holistic thinking approach to negotiations and global causal policymaking.
Nicolas Lamp, Associate Professor at the Queen’s University Faculty of Law, noted the immense backlash against economic globalisation and how this has drastically expanded the scope of trade and trade negotiations. In his remarks, he also highlighted the importance of incorporating different perspectives in line with different narratives of international trade lawmaking.
Anthea Roberts, Professor at the School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet), Australian National University, outlined six faces of globalisation discussed in her book “Six Faces of Globalisation: Who wins, who loses, and why it matters” co-authored with Nicolas Lamp. The six faces of globalisation addressed are: (i) the establishment narrative; (ii) the left-wing populist narrative; (iii) the right-wing populist narrative; (iv) the geoeconomics narrative; (v) the corporate power narrative; and (vi) the global threats narratives. These six competing narratives give each of these viewpoints its due, demonstrating how each uses complex reasoning and compelling evidence. Roberts and Lamp present a holistic framework for understanding current disputes by distinguishing the fundamental value conflicts—growth vs. sustainability, efficiency versus social stability—that drive disagreement and illustrating where rival narratives converge.
Abhijit Das, Professor and Head of the Centre for World Trade Organization (WTO) Studies, discussed five dimensions of perceptions in India regarding globalisation. First, the multilateral trading system rules are viewed by some as constricting policy space of governments in developing countries. Second, views have been expressed that some developed countries do not strictly adhere to the multilateral trading regime’s rules-based system. Third, the asymmetries in some of the WTO agreements have contributed to the negative perception of trade, globalisation, and the multilateral trading system. Fourth, according to Professor Das, the process of negotiations is perceived lack transparency and be tilted against the interests of developing countries. Fifth, a one-sided discourse on international trade and WTO issues in international media has contributed to a negative perception of trade and globalisation in India.
Petina Gappah, Principal Legal Advisor, African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA) Secretariat, was of the opinion that the pandemic exposed the unfairness of the global economic order, as evidenced by the refusal to grant patent waivers to allow countries to expand vaccine production capacity and stockpile vaccines. Gappah also warned that if disenchantment about multilateralism continued, countries would increasingly focus on regional and free trade agreements. Finally, she highlighted a need for inclusivity and for countries to integrate in the global economy at their own pace.
Joost Pauwelyn, Professor at the Geneva Graduate Institute, highlighted the need to distinguish between globalisation and the backlash against it. According to him, the world has moved from a consensus world to a fragmented one where everyone prioritises their interests, making concluding agreements difficult. He stressed the need to find a new common narrative that brings everyone together, following the European Union (EU) example that established sustainability as a common narrative. To ensure the conclusion of agreements at the WTO, he proposed taking an evidence-based approach and widening the group of stakeholders involved in the WTO, such as Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), to avoid falling back to ideological debates, fostering political saliency.
This article was authored by Hiral Ramesh Hirani, CUTS International