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UN’s AI tool helps developing countries win trade deals

Interview with Mia Mikic, former Director of Trade, Investment and Innovation Division, UNESCAP from 'Government Insider'

The United Nations’ AI tool gives countries advice for negotiating trade deals. It suggests who to negotiate with, advocates which tariffs to lower, and lays out the benefits of each reduced tariff.

This could be a game-changer for nations which lack the resources or experience with negotiations. “In many developed countries you have huge teams of people working on that with very rich experience”, but less developed nations may not know where to start, says Mia Mikic.

Mikic is the outgoing Director of Trade, Investment and Innovation Division at the United Nations Economic And Social Commission For Asia And The Pacific (UNESCAP). She shares how the organisation is making trade more inclusive.

More inclusive trade negotiations

Trade negotiations aren’t always held on a level playing field. UNESCAP developed an AI platform to help policymakers understand their options. Users pick a country to negotiate with on the website, which then analyses possible agreements between the two countries.

The site shares which countries they’re already trading with, along with other existing agreements and statistics. The AI even suggests what to negotiate, such as which products the country should aim to remove tariffs on.

This tool, known as the Trade Intelligence and Negotiation Advisor or TINA, could be an “equaliser” in global trade, Mikic says. Bangladesh is currently using it to negotiate a free trade agreement with India, she shares.

Mikic is currently Advisor at Large of the Asia-Pacific Research and Training Network on Trade (ARTNeT). The network aims to develop the region’s trade, by training researchers and helping leaders translate data into better policies.

The UN has also set up a treaty for cross-border paperless trade, which will make trade more inclusive. E-documents are cheaper, Mikic explains. “It would be easier for the small and medium sized enterprises, as well as women, to engage in that process.”

The UN will continue supporting micro, small and medium-sized enterprises. It recently released a series of guidelines on how ASEAN governments can create policies to support them better.

Fundamentally, governments need to know which businesses qualify for help, and what kinds of support are most helpful. The UN is working with countries including Cambodia, Malaysia and the Philippines in these areas, Mikic shares.

It will also need to establish an accreditation network, so companies know where to go to be recognised as an inclusive business, she adds. This will be necessary to qualify for government aid.

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