WASHINGTON, DC – Recently, a group of officials gathered to plot a new trade strategy. It was a typical trade-policy discussion: the participants diagnosed competitive export sectors, identified key trading partners, described how public and private investment could resolve barriers to global integration, and forged a new bilateral relationship.
But the meeting was not hosted by the World Bank or the World Trade Organization in Washington, DC. It was held in Portland, Oregon, where Mayor Sam Adams and Greater Portland, Inc. (a public-private partnership dedicated to driving regional economic growth and job creation) have collaborated to develop and implement a new export plan for the Portland metropolitan area.
In the age of the WTO, free-trade agreements, and currency wars, why would a city have a trade strategy? The answer is simple: as Portland’s initiative – one of a growing number of metropolitan-led trade efforts worldwide – recognizes, cities, not countries, are the real centers of global trade.
More than 2,000 years ago, before the emergence of the nation-state, the Silk Road connected Xi’an, Baghdad, Istanbul, and hundreds of other cities through trade. In the Middle Ages, Zanzibar and other East African cities served as trading hubs for Asian merchants. And the Hanseatic League, a confederation of market towns, facilitated trade between coastal European cities between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries.