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Long Reads

The Future of Trade

The past year’s populist resurgence has brought to the fore ongoing debates about trade and underscored public concerns about internationalism. Can the mechanisms of globalization that shaped the twentieth-century world economy be salvaged to continue delivering prosperity in the coming decades?

WATERLOO, CANADA – With ample prodding from US President Donald Trump and other populist demagogues, public angst about globalization has become one of the defining issues of our time. Indeed, out of all of globalization’s many manifestations, populists have singled out international trade agreements for special criticism. To hear Trump tell it, “horrible” trade deals are to blame for almost everything that is wrong in the world today.

To be sure, populist nationalism appears to have suffered a setback in recent months, losing badly in national elections this year in the Netherlands, France, and the United Kingdom. But globalization is not out of the woods yet. Public concerns about the impact of international economic integration have been building up for years, and will not simply dissipate as a result of a few elections or referenda.

Ongoing debates about globalization have naturally focused on individual free-trade agreements, and on bilateral trade arrangements such as those between the United States and China. But they have also addressed more abstract questions, such as what the future of globalization may hold, and, specifically, whether a new rules-based global consensus can be forged for the twenty-first century.

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