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The Restructuring of the World

Trade protectionism, together with fears over the national-security implications of technological development, are contributing to a balkanization of the world order. This is not good news for the United States as it faces an intensifying rivalry with an increasingly powerful China.

MILAN – The global economy is undergoing a far-reaching transformation. Change is being driven by shifts in countries’ populations, productivity, wealth, power, and ambitions, and accelerated by US President Donald Trump’s moves to reshape supply-chain structures, alter cross-border investment incentives, and limit the movement of people and technology across borders.

The tensions that these changes are producing are most apparent in escalating disputes over trade. Notwithstanding some dislocations in emerging economies, markets’ reaction to the tit-for-tat tariffs so far has been only muted. Investors probably assume that it is all just part of a renegotiation process that will ultimately produce new rules of engagement for global business – rules that are even more favorable to the powerful.

But such assumptions may underestimate the complexity of the issues at play, beginning with the politically salient matter of where investment and employment are created. On their own, tariff and trade barriers, if viewed as transitory negotiating tactics, will not significantly change global investment patterns or the structure of global supply chains and employment.

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