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Multilateral trade deals to benefit poor countries

Multilateral trade deals to benefit poor countries

The International Chamber of Commerce believes in multilateral trade agreements as it deems them to be fair and balanced.

“We absolutely favour and prefer multilateral agreements over bilateral ones, because it allows weak countries to participate in the same level,” Philip Kucharski, chief operating officer of the ICC, told The Daily Star in an interview last week.

Kucharski, who was in the capital to attend the Asia-Pacific Business Forum 2017, made the comments in response to growing fears that the US could become more protectionist under President Donald Trump.

For instance, in the first week of assuming office, Trump withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, a proposed trade agreement between the 12 countries that border the Pacific Ocean.

Trump also has plans to put in place a system under which US imports be subjected to tax and export revenues exempted from them.

Kucharski, who is a British national, was also hurt to see the UK withdraw from the European common market that took over 50 years to build.

Britain’s decision to leave the world’s largest free trade zone surprised a lot of people. “It was a short-sighted decision and we have to face the consequences.” The Netherlands, Germany, France and Italy are also showing similar tendencies, as some protectionist and nationalistic parties will be contesting in the next elections.

“If we close down the borders, this will be a serious message to the rest of the world. You cannot trade on racism and religion.”

But the ICC’s objective could not be further from worrying trend.

“As long as trade happens, we will support and defend free trade. Our message has to be that trade generates growth and growth generates jobs,” said Kucharski, who previously served the ICC as its head of business development and global networks.

Established in 1919, ICC is the largest, most representative business organisation in the world, with hundreds of thousands of member companies in over 130 countries spanning every sector of private enterprise.

ICC has three main activities: rule setting, dispute resolution and policy advocacy.  Since its member companies and associations are themselves engaged in international business, ICC has unrivalled authority in making rules that govern the conduct of business across borders.

The Paris-based organisation also has got an observer status in the United Nations in December last year.

“This is a wonderful achievement,” said Kucharski, who previously worked as the venerable magazine The Economist’s director of marketing for the Europe, the Middle East and Africa region.

ICC is the only business organisation with the permanent observer status in the UN.

“What it means is now we have the same status as some countries and we can submit, propose and suggest our business issues to the UN General Assembly.”

Kucharski also touched upon the matter of regional integration in South Asia — one of the least integrated areas in the world with intra-regional trade of about 5 percent.

Integration is a natural progression and it comes through prosperity, he said, adding that for Bangladesh prosperity will ensue if it can continue to grow at 7 percent.

“We believe prosperity is a big driver not only to integration but also to peace,” he said, adding that regional integration is vital to achieving the sustainable development goals.

The ICC COO said Brexit will have no long-term impact on countries like Bangladesh. In the short-term though, there might be a decline in exports to the UK.

“Brexit is creating tensions and uncertainties and people usually don’t invest under this situation.”

On the US’s withdrawal from the TPP, he said there are always opportunities that come from failed agreements or disruptions and Bangladesh stand to benefit from it as well.

Asked about his experience at the Asia-Pacific Business Forum 2017, which Bangladesh hosted for the first time in the event’s 13-year history, he said he was heartened to see the interactions between the business community and the government and the civil society.

“It seems the interaction was very close. We had the president in the inaugural session and saw that a number of ministers were keen to attend the meeting.”

Kucharski went on to laud the ICC Bangladesh for its active role in promoting the local priorities and best practices at different levels. “ICC Bangladesh is run by a group of talented people who are efficient and energetic.”

About the ICC’s future plan of action, he said the organisation wants to turn its attention to small- and medium-sized enterprises from big businesses as the SMEs create most of the jobs around the world.

On the challenges of ICC, he cited the threats arising from e-commerce, digitisation and artificial intelligence.

Courtesy: The Daily Star

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