The world is building fences. Here’s why we should worry

Long forgotten seem the walls, fences and barbed wires at all borders. Therefore, the understanding of the benefits of open borders might be fading. Of course, with terrorist attacks and waves of migrants concerns are rising. However, I wish that we are mindful and clear about the effectiveness, consequences and cost of the new global disintegration tendencies.

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In December 2015, the BBC wrote: “EU border security becomes new mantra“. Not only Europe but larger parts of the world are going through a phase of increasing disintegration: the Brexit referendum, discussions about the exclusion of Greece from the Eurozone and the beginning of the construction of fences along the green borders of barrier-free Schengen.

Near Schengen, on 14 June 1985, the picturesque town in Luxembourg, five European countries signed the agreement which led to the creation of Europe’s borderless Schengen area. In light of mass flows of migrants seeking asylum in Europe, Hungary blocked migrants from onward travel to the rest of Europe and constructed a four-metre-tall fence along sections of the border with Serbia – a country not part of the Schengen area.

Also, Austria has begun building an anti-migrant barrier across the Brenner Pass at the Italian border. Putting an end to hope on one side and reducing fears on the other. However, it’s not only in Europe that countries are raising the bar. US presidential hopeful Donald Trump wants to build a wall at the Mexican border. Increasing fear of terrorists in the US has led to the reintroduction of a visa for “certain Europeans“.

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Image: The Economist

Click here to see other regions in the Economist’s interactive map

The hidden cost of disintegration

What would be the impact of reestablishing barriers? Citizens would face long-forgotten burdens: the northern Europeans, for example, would experience long traffic jams at the Brenner Pass on the way to the holiday destinations in the south. Labour markets would also be affected: 1.7 million people cross European borders every day to get to work. Consumer prices would rise due to the forced slowdown and necessary adjustments along the supply chain. Waiting and inspection times at the borders would need to be factored into the prices of goods, as well as the changes required to the highly cost-optimized just-in-time concepts – largely applied in global manufacturing in the automotive industry – and the efficient goods supply out of the distribution centres. Many of the products made available by bilateral and multilateral agreements would disappear from supermarket shelves.

Disintegration would affect the competitive position too. Europe, for example, might find itself in a very disadvantaged situation given that Asia is continuing to integrate. What if TTP arrives and Schengen leaves? There might also be explosive geopolitical risk involved, with Crimea, Ukraine and new Chinese islands in the South China Sea heating up the debate. As new fences go up across Europe, what tensions could result from countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece being left more or less alone with new waves of migrants?

How effective are visas and border controls?

Looking back: how safe has the world been with more barriers? Did borders protect Italy from the onslaught in the 1970s of the Red Brigades, Spain from the ETA, Germany from the Red Army, and France from GIA? Did borders protect the US from attack on 9/11? How effective have been the high metal fences and walls, barbed wire, alarms, anti-vehicle ditches, watchtowers, automatic booby traps and minefields along the inner German border from 1945 to 1990? The threat often lies within: “Not one Paris attacker has been identified as a Syrian refugee”, Mashable wrote.

Tightening up security

The world has experienced decades of advancing global integration. Increasingly open borders and many trade and investment partnerships have strongly contributed to the prosperity and wealth of people and nations. International organizations and agencies have not only supported global growth but also established institutions in charge of dealing with the risks of reducing national barriers. Organizations have developed international ties and many platforms of collaboration to fight crime and terror have emerged.

Interpol – the International Criminal Police Organization – has strong links with Europol, the organization coordinating the local police forces across Europe. Within countries, ministries and agencies are increasingly working together. Germany, for example, has established the GTAZ – the Joint Counter-Terrorism Centre – an autonomous authority and co-operation platform used by 40 internal security agencies.

The private sector has launched initiatives to protect staff and assets against terrorism and other threats across the globe. Since the attacks of 9/11, security measures have been tightened. Today, individuals and companies are checked against the sanction lists of the US and Europe. Employees appearing on the lists are no longer allowed to be paid a salary, and companies are excluded from doing business. Though, as the Panama papers show, we have not yet closed all the back doors.

Battle on the internet

Social media helps terrorists organize itself and recruit new fighters. On the other hand, the FBI uses internet surveillance software like Carnivore to identify and stop attacks. Organizations such as the Search for International Terrorist Entities are scanning propaganda material and training manuals, and sharing the insights with other organizations. Technology trumps. The internet has the potential to flatten borders while reducing risks. The more people are active on the net, the better economic value can be extracted and (potential) terrorist activities monitored. Which also does not come without concerns and complexities – as the discussion between Apple and the FBI shows.

Governments have the obligation to protect citizens and the right to control borders. However, what are the effects of the potential disintegration on citizens, migrants and the economy? The Bertelsmann Foundation warns that reestablishing permanent border controls in Europe could produce losses of up to 1.4 trillion euros over 10 years.

We need to understand and be mindful of the impact of our decisions on the economy. All the same, should we apply economic reasoning to a decision on whether or not to offer a helping hand to people in severe need?

Image: REUTERS/Marko Djurica

This blog was originally posted on the World Economic Forum Agenda.

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Can trade change the way we see globalization?

Many voices have been prophesying the end of globalization. Koert Debeuf, political analyst and visiting research fellow, CRIC, Oxford University, writes in the aftermath of the Paris attacks on 13 November 2015: “The world has left the path of globalization and is taking the trail of tribalization.” Are we facing a new trend?

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Globalization is a multidimensional phenomenon – the interconnectedness, interdependence and integration of cultures, markets and individuals. The emergence and growth of the global net of diverse national economies has brought new perspectives and prosperity to countries, companies and citizens. Although the trade flows are changing and the growth has slowed after the global financial crisis, connectivity is the key enabler of modern life.

Despite all connectedness and convergence, the world remains diverse. And that diversity is a major source of creativity; it drives innovation and progress, growth and prosperity. Connections and interactions within and among groups with a multitude of races, ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations are driving creativity and innovation in companies and across geographies. Competition makes us focus and keeps us contributing to economic growth.

However, diversity and competition are also leading to anxiety and conflict.

There is a need to strike the right balance between growth and prosperity on the one hand and preservation and protection on the other. What are the specific roles governments, businesses and resources play in this respect?

Borders aren’t always barriers

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks in New York, and more recently in Paris and Brussels, governments have attempted to protect citizens by raising the barriers at their borders. The intentions are good, but the practice risks burdening the economy or even excluding their own consumers, investors, brands and manufacturers from the many benefits and opportunities created by international trade and globalization.

However, today’s governments may not have the mandate to make this decision themselves. One of the deep-rooted desires of humanity is to exchange with other people and travel the world. As we see in the ongoing “hacktivist” challenges to the national firewalls, people will not give up on finding ways to access what is kept away from them – even if they simultaneously fear losing the security provided by national borders.

Borders do not need to be barriers. Modern technology has reached a stage where both security and fluidity is possible. Despite open borders, local cultures persist – as many examples show. Nations should continue to set the rules based on local codes, interests and needs, while regional and international bodies, such as the ASEAN and the World Trade Organization, help to prepare, negotiate and execute international frameworks and implement tested tools for secure borderless flow of goods and people, capital and data.

This often challenged but widely used model requires from the various actors – mainly governments and international organizations – empathy, creativity, diplomacy and pragmatism.

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Small businesses with global goals

Multinational companies have been developing the capacity to thrive in global commerce for some time. Thanks to internet, small and mid-sized companies have also gained access to the global markets. Although the physical supply chain still struggles to overcome the various hurdles to make international commerce easy and truly a reality, many online platforms and sites already exist to serve sellers and buyers, independent of location.

On the back of international agreements and with the help of supply-chain service providers, global brands have built global sourcing, manufacturing and distribution networks. The diverse range of companies competing in today’s worldwide markets do not only design, manufacture and provide us with the goods we enjoy – but also offer jobs in the many countries in which they operate.

Therefore, not only are global companies likely to object to regulation that significantly restricts their ability to manufacture and sell abroad, but smaller players, employees and consumers might well join the effort to maintain access to resources, products and customers in the digital global market.

Global solutions to global problems

On the one hand, the planet needs preservation and protection: if we do not act there will be more plastic than fish in terms of weight in the world’s oceans by 2050. On the other hand people need food, shelter, healthcare, education and jobs: in 2015, 836 million people around the world were living on less than $1.25 a day. While there are grave concerns about the effect of industrialization and consumption on resources and the environment, there is no doubt that poverty should be eradicated. And as the poor often live on the most affordable and hence vulnerable land, one obstacle to ending poverty is climate change.

We can observe that no barrier, no net, no firewall is large, long or strong enough to keep pollution, micro-plastics, terrorists and other threats away. Considering the magnitude of today’s environmental threats, there is a need to act fast and collectively. The world needs a cross-disciplinary and cross-industry effort, not only to effectively respond to the global environmental and resource challenge but also to other crises, such as pandemics, conflicts and the refugee challenge.

COP21, the Bali package and many other initiatives and agreements show that governments and enterprises are willing to stand together to develop more effective global frameworks and mechanisms. We need to strengthen the global platforms of collaboration and impact on which international organizations and governments, businesses and academia can co-create the most effective and balanced global solutions.

Ultimately, globalization is not an on/off exercise but the ongoing responsible management of global conventions and national codes, global markets and diverse economies, global commons and inclusive global growth. This requires confident and capable actors with strong identities not afraid to open up and willing and able to respect the different cultures while complying with international treaties and law. Even more so, globalization should be the golden path that connects and lifts the diverse global community to the next level of prosperity.

Image: REUTERS/Edgar Su

This blog was originally posted on the World Economic Forum Agenda.

4 things to know about the new era of global trade

As Otaviano Canuto, the executive director of the IMF, wrote in the Huffington Post, “world trade suffered another disappointing year in 2015, experiencing a contraction in merchandise trade during the first half and only low growth during the second half”. After the boom of previous years and since 2008, world trade has been rising slower than GDP. In light of the lingering effects of the global financial crises, China rebalancing towards domestic consumption and the lack of new BRIC-like global growth engines, companies and governments need to adjust their strategies.
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The main characteristics of the new era of global trade are relatively mature value and supply chains, increasing regionalization and localization of production, the rise of non-tariff barriers after a period of significant tariff reductions, and an e-commerce boom, which often struggles to overcome the hurdles in international business. Digitization appears to be the key enabler of modern times, and an important lever to capture value in the new era of global trade. It is digitization that opens up new horizons for product design and management, manufacturing, retail, and the repurposing of goods. However, we need open and courageous leaders in government and business to make the change happen and capture the opportunity in the following main areas of development.

1. The new customer experience: “fast products”

Today’s customers demand fast products, such as fast fashion with quickly changing models. In fact, this works well for brands wanting to avoid the high inventory and high risks they encounter when they have to make big bets on the right designs for an entire fashion season, for example. Fast products require short supply chains. Consequently, production needs to move closer to the markets and shops to meet the shorter lead times from sketch to shelf. Zara, for example, “adapts couture designs, manufactures, distributes and retails clothes within two weeks of the original design first appearing on catwalks”. In creating the new customer experience, the management of the supply chain becomes a critical source of competitive edge.

Companies that wish to play in the “fast economy” will require new factories close to the markets and new distribution platforms. Those countries that provide the most fluid import and export ecosystem will be high on investors’ lists. In particular, countries in regions close to large markets, such as Central America, South-East Asia and North Africa might wish to review their strategies to capture the value of this trend.

2. Multilayer global manufacturing and supply platforms

Digitization helps the fast economy. In the past, brands tended to centralize manufacturing for better manageability and quality control. The power of information technology, the internet of things, big data and the cloud provides a new level of collaboration and empowerment throughout the value and supply chain. One example is the Flex Pulse Centre. The enhanced visibility allows companies to move factories closer to the customer without risking sudden surprises. In the continuous process, the global supply chain is converting towards a more and more dense and integrated platform of short, medium and long distance cargo moves – with regional and local distribution centres along the way. With the fast economy some intercontinental flows of goods will become regional and local traffic. However, the new factories will continue to require global supply, as not all materials and resources will come from sources nearby.

These multilayer global manufacturing and supply platforms still have many black holes. Some blackouts of visibility are caused by governmental security concerns, for example in freezones, others by the lack of digital infrastructure. There are opportunities for business and government through public-private partnerships to establish not only the digital architecture but also the trust to fully leverage the available technology. It goes without saying that the smooth and seamless movements of goods in and out of countries through the reduction or elimination of tariff and non-tariff border barriers is essential for establishing denser platforms and making countries and locations more attractive.

3. Scaling up market participation: International e-commerce

The era of “platformization” allows for a more inclusive economy. Global e-commerce platforms such as eBay or Alibaba can connect millions of manufacturers and billions of consumers, making the global market accessible to even the smallest manufacturer and providing the broadest choice to all consumers. In addition to much broader and better match-making, middlemen are cut out which allows for higher margins on the sales and lower prices on the purchasing side. It also reduces the risk of corruption. However, the concept only works if the underlying logistics and transportation platforms support the digital transactions.

Unlocking the potential of international ecommerce requires efficient and cost-effective logistics and smooth customs processes through the paperless digital export and import processing. On the import side there is a need for effective tools to be able to process and analyse information about shippers and products moved. These tools reduce clearing times, even enable pre-clearance, and help to manage the risks that come along with lower value goods, which fall often below the threshold of more diligent customs clearance processes. In addition, governments need to ensure healthy competition and avoid the formation of digital monopolies. Platforms can also be used to foster the job-creating small and midsized business landscape.

4. Repurposing of goods

Although there is a need to analyse the entire value chain, as sometimes even long-distance transport might be less carbon intense than local production, tightening the supply chain in many cases saves energy and emissions. Hence, the trend towards localization and regionalization helps with resources and the environment. However, new technology and digitization can go well beyond the simple shortening of the supply chain.

The new visibility in the supply chain not only helps identify leakages and misuse but enables new operating and business models, ranging from optimizing delivery routes to tapping into unused capacity enabled by the many platforms of the sharing economy. Additional potential lies in the resources locked in the products which are thrown away every day: electronics, paper and plastics. Asset tracking could help unlock a potential value of about $52 billion annually for consumer electronics and household appliances alone. Repurposing products will be a major challenge and opportunity for governments and companies in the years ahead.

In the modern interconnected and interdependent world, we need seamless global visibility and fluidity of the flow of goods. Businesses seek and will find new sources of value in tracking products throughout the first lifecycle and the recovery for the repurposing. By creating a repurposing capability, the public and private sectors have a unique opportunity to position themselves as modern and responsible players.

In the past, developed and developing countries have benefitted from globalization, with China as the most recent role model of trade-driven growth. Some low-cost labour countries might still be able to repeat China’s success, others need to look for new models. While globalization has driven the rise of emerging markets and global players, it has also paved the way for today’s dense multilayer value and supply platforms, which are the basis of our modern life.

Companies and governments need to update knowledge and adjust strategies. We must keep in mind that despite all the technological possibilities, it is our skills, wisdom and courage that will help develop new business models and drive the necessary policy reforms. As Sachin Maini once said: “While technology makes it possible to do much more than we could without it, it can’t help us decide what to do.”

This blog was originally posted on the World Economic Forum Agenda.