The OECD offers a wealth of data and analysis illustrating that investment and trade can strongly support the competitiveness of our economies, the efficiency of markets for consumers, the potential for innovation, and—yes—the quality of employment. Of course, open markets raise the stakes for companies and their workers in a competitive environment. But policies that enforce rules for multilateral trade and that encourage governments and social partners to invest in education, training, and skills will ultimately enable our economies to trade up, and not down. In fact, OECD research shows that companies that are involved in international trade offer better working conditions, better salaries, and can reduce informality.
We also know that trade and investment are questioned by some, and unfortunately the arguments are increasingly emotional, if not irrational. And in spite of some modest improvements, barriers to market for trade and “foreign” direct investment exist in abundance, with significant adverse effects on growth and productivity. We often forget that trade and investment have pulled hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and are responsible for much of the convergence we see between living standards globally across countries.
Protectionism remains a real threat, and not many understand the severe consequences for productivity if global value chains are or compromised or even interrupted. In fact, the OECD can exactly show this for individual countries and even sectors.
We are all challenged to communicate responsibly on the opportunities that come with open markets. Clearly, it is counterproductive to vilify trade and to use it for campaigns of all sorts. We need both, a strong and reliable multilateral trade regime, and a drive to reap the benefits of regional integration—including TPP and TTIP. If done right, these goals should be compatible and enforce themselves mutually. And the great potential of trade in services is still to be developed, with important tools such as the OECD Trade in Services Restrictiveness Index pointing to the cost of the many barriers in this sector.
One more word on investment: there is a rambling debate on investor protection, and some question if International Investment Agreements—along with Investor State Dispute Settlement schemes—compromise “the right to regulate”. This is another example how an important debate can be hijacked for populism. Of course, states should have the right to regulate, but not expropriate. It should surprise nobody that high-standards for the protection of investors against measures that contradict earlier agreements are essential for a pro-growth policy environment—and in particular for long term investment in infrastructure. It is important that that these discussions are put back on a factual basis and that misinterpretations are effectively addressed. The OECD is in a unique place to explain why international investment agreements matter, and how they contribute to economic prosperity worldwide. Governments and business, with support and evidence from the OECD, must step up in their efforts to explain the virtues of trade and investment more convincingly to the public.
International trade: Free, fair and open? OECD Insights