Chatham House: Global Trade 2019

Monday 14 October

Session One | Global Power Dynamics

This opening session will examine the extent of geopolitical disruption caused by protectionist policies by the United States including tariffs, the trade war with China and the blocking of the functioning of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

  • To what extent have escalating tensions between the US and its trading partners made a global trade war more likely? Will the Trump administration ratchet up pressure on other entities such as the EU or Japan? 
  • Have China’s practices around forced technology transfer and subsidization of state-owned enterprises led to increased wariness among investors and governments beyond just the Trump administration? Is China’s domestic market large enough that its trade surplus will either reduce or disappear entirely? Will slowing growth in China lead to significant changes in its trade policy, towards either more liberalism or retrenchment? 
  • Can the US be persuaded to end its veto of new WTO appellate body members and resolve the current impasse? What would be the implications for global trade if the appellate body cannot function after 10 December?
  • Does the WTO require broader reforms to achieve buy-in from its member states? Is there a constructive agenda for greater reform of the WTO and the multilateral trading order? In the absence of consensus at the WTO, do plurilateral agreements represent a way forward for global trade?

Session Two | Brexit: What Now for UK Trade Policy?

This session will address Brexit and the UK’s future trade policy with the EU and beyond, examining potential opportunities and threats. 

  • Have decades of European integration weakened the UK’s ability to strike trade deals with major economies? Or does Brexit present an opportunity for future economic partnerships?
  • How much progress has the UK made in replicating EU trade agreements globally? What sort of disruption can be expected if trade arrangements are not fully in place and the UK leaves the EU without a deal? Will the transition period provide enough time to adapt to new trading rules?
  • Is there scope for partial integration into the single market? To what extent can technological developments mitigate or resolve issues raised by new customs barriers? 
  • How can policymakers deliver continuity and stability for business?  

Session Three | Services and Digital Trade

This session will explore how the digital economy is redefining international trade, focusing on the increase in service-based and digital trade, what this means for the global economy and how trade agreements can accommodate their growth. 

  • To what extent is it possible to pursue regulatory harmonization around trade in services in an environment where pooling of sovereignty is increasingly being viewed sceptically in domestic politics?
  • What is the potential of trade in services to generate new opportunities, as digital platforms allow users to find service providers from across the globe? 
  • Are data governance and data protection regulations conducive to promoting international trade in data? Does the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) represent a step forward for digital trade or an impediment to EU businesses?
  • Is traditional rule-making adapting to keep up with new digital businesses? How can policy-makers reduce the technical barriers to digital trade?
  • To what extent is the growth and liberalization of trade in services primarily benefiting advanced economies? Is digitalization creating a ‘winner take all’ economy and limiting competition on a global level? 

Session Four | Technology and Global Supply Chains


This closing session will focus on the potential for technological improvements to modify global and regional supply chains as well as the implications for transparency, traceability and trust. 

  • Does the movement towards global supply chains advantage large corporations or can it open up new opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)? 
  • In what ways are new technologies such as robotics, automation and the internet of things being deployed to make supply chains more flexible, productive and resource efficient?  
  • How can businesses leverage distributed ledger technologies to address global trade issues such as high costs and lack of transparency and security? Will blockchain be used to streamline verification processes and product standards? What are the main regulatory barriers to adopting this new technology? 
  • Is automation making it easier for companies to ‘re-shore’ some of their operations, effectively reversing the outsourcing of the past two decades? What are the implications for emerging markets that rely on a competitive advantage in cheap labour?