Trade flows in the age of automation

On Friday, September 18 the Atlantic Council hosted, “Trade flows in the age of automation.” The webinar featured several esteemed trade professionals including, Antony Phillipson, Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner for North America, Rain Newton-Smith Chief Economist at Confederation of British Industry as well as Bart Oosterveld and Barbara Matthews, both of whom are fellows at the Atlantic Council.  The panelists discussed the impact of digital technologies on the future of trade flows in a post COVID-19 world.

The panelists described how countries must adapt to technological changes in the context of global trade in order to effectively reap the potential benefits. However, the panelists also recognized that technology has disrupted numerous sectors. These disruptions have contributed to new questions being posed about the impact of technology on not only trade but also on quality of life and the environment. The panelists agreed that the World Trade Organization serves an important forum for the negotiation of plurilateral agreements regarding the role of emerging technologies such as AI and Blockchain in the global trading system. Other large international organizations such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development can also play a role in facilitating discussions on establishing multi-lateral standards. However, the panelists underscored the difficult nature of coming to agreements in an international system that is not governed by democracy. 

The panelists also addressed the challenges associated with reshoring, which has been shaping up to be an area of debate among several countries seeking to build more resiliency among their supply chains. The panelists recognized that while this initially seems like an attractive option, globalized supply chains offer benefits that are not be easily replicated. Thus, countries must generate forward momentum in reaching agreements, which not only incorporate private sector input but also ensure technology is used to enhance efficiency in the global trading system.