A new Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) report, The Evolution of the Global Trading System: How the Rise of Asia and Next Generation Challenges Will Shape the Future Economy, by ASPI's Shay Wester, explores next-generation trade challenges where new rules and new approaches will be needed. It concludes with observations on how these changes are reshaping the global trading system and examines how governments will need to adapt going forward.
Over the last seventy years, global trade flows have grown to an unprecedented level, facilitated by the lowering of tariffs and the creation of a shared set of rules. The Asia Pacific region has been central to this remarkable growth, with trade volumes nearly quadrupling in the last twenty years.
Asian countries view trade as a critical tool to grow their economies, strengthen supply chain resiliency, create jobs, foster development, attract foreign direct investment, and promote innovation. As a result, they have been on the forefront of concluding trade agreements, and in the process tackling emerging issues through innovative approaches.
In the meantime, many of the existing institutions, groupings, and approaches that have supported a strong rules-based trading system have not sufficiently stepped up to address emerging challenges.
In particular, negotiating efforts at the World Trade Organization (WTO) have largely stalled with WTO members to date unable to forge consensus on pressing trade matters affecting climate, health, and digital, to name just a few. Additionally, as the scope of trade agreements has expanded over time, concluding comprehensive agreements has become more difficult. Finally, increased geopolitical tensions have impacted the multilateral trading system’s ability to function and thus respond effectively to new challenges.