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CEOs To Govts: Rise Above Geopolitical Tensions, Protectionism For Trade Reforms

75 percent of the global public supports expanding trade, but only half said they thought globalisation was good for their country, a drop of 10 percentage points since 2019.

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Governments across the world must rise above geopolitical tensions to re-engage on trade reforms while refraining from protectionism, a group of nearly 30 CEOs said in a joint call to action on Friday. 

The group of CEOs and chairpersons from some of the world's biggest companies spread across 17 countries, brought together by the World Economic Forum (WEF), said the trading system must adapt to address new concerns of global resiliency, sustainability and inclusivity.

The signatories included Mastercard's Ajay S Banga, John Keells Holdings' Krishan N Balendra, Zilingo Pte Ltd's Ankiti Bose, Dolf van den Brink of HEINEKEN NV, Al Kelly Jr of Visa Inc, Schneider Electric's Jean-Pascal Tricroire, Standard Chartered Bank's Jose Vinals and Noel Quinn of HSBC Holdings Plc. This call comes at a time of significant geopolitical tensions and challenging economic dynamics. Uniquely, it brings together a diverse group of companies representing 17 countries across all five continents.

The signatories are from 12 sectors -- retail, e-commerce, food and beverage, payments, financial sector, investors, telecommunications, chemicals, logistics, supply chain and transport, professional services, energy and commodities. Convened by the WEF's Trade and Investment community, business leaders called for higher global ambition for trade cooperation, including at the upcoming WTO Ministerial Meeting.

"Business leaders are sending clear signals to policymakers that change is both necessary and achievable," WEF President Borge Brende said. "In this 'Trade for Tomorrow' statement, leaders highlight the potential of trade and investment for recovery and development. They call for quick progress on health, digital, investment and environmental matters, and note that business can help with implementing reforms," he added.

According to a recent Ipsos-WEF survey, 75 percent of the global public supports expanding trade, but only half said they thought globalisation was good for their country, a drop of 10 percentage points since 2019. This ambiguity reveals a belief in the potential of trade for improving lives but deep unease over its current directions.

The call to action also highlights a need for deeper dialogue on trade system governance and building a level playing field, as societies reflect on what they seek from trade.

In their 'Trade for Tomorrow' statement, the business leaders said it is a call to action to make trade work for all. "We believe trade and investment support human development and that global recovery can be built upon a trade recovery. Governments must creatively re-engage on trade reform and refrain from protectionism," the statement said.

It also called for trade and investment empowering people to exchange goods and services, find rewarding employment, enjoy consumer benefits and grow successful businesses, thus supporting development and inclusion.

"Through jointly upholding environmental and social standards, trade cooperation should prevent a race to the bottom and avoid harmful distortions to markets for goods and services. Trade cooperation can improve outcomes for underrepresented members of society, including women and minorities," the CEOs said in their joint statement.

They also called upon the world leaders to strengthen healthcare access and advance meaningful environmental agreements by the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference in December.

The CEOs urged the government leaders to engage in an open and ambitious dialogue on trade system reforms, particularly with regards to the WTO dispute settlement mechanism, the role of the WTO in a diverse trade architecture and the functions of the secretariat.

The CEOs also urged the governments to resolve level-playing-field concerns with respect to subsidies, state-owned enterprises, trade remedies, government procurement and domestic regulation across industrial, agriculture and service sectors.

The signatories also included Hussain Dawood of Dawood Hercules Corporation, Jim Fitterling of Dow, Svein Tore Holsether of Yara International ASA, Christian Lanng of Tradeshift, Geoff Martha of Medtronic and John Pearson of DHL Express.


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