Wed, Apr 10, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Today’s nationalism is bad for business

By Lise Kingo and Scott Mather

The system of international cooperation that emerged from the ashes of World War II is at risk. Multilateralism and the institutions that support it — including the WTO, the UN and the EU — are being called into question as more nations embrace inward-looking nationalism, leading in some cases to political instability and conflict.

So why are business and finance leaders not doing much more to combat these troubling trends?

Postwar history shows that global economic integration — including freer trade and higher cross-border investment — helps markets and societies to prosper, with health, education and life expectancy improving significantly in many parts of the world.

True, globalization has also produced major societal imbalances, which are fueling popular discontent, but rejecting it, as a growing number now do, threatens the very system that has helped to create wealth, combat poverty and expand the ranks of the global middle class.

Business and finance have arguably benefited the most from the open, rules-based international political and economic order, yet chief executives and chairpersons rarely use their influential voices to defend multilateralism and global cooperation.

This is partly because most private enterprises still focus on bread-and-butter lobbying, often via trade associations, in connection with national regulations and policies.

Similarly, corporate boards tend to deal with basic governance and risk-management issues, and seldom address broader geopolitical concerns — and when they do, directors are often unsure how to make a meaningful contribution.

However, in the face of increasing global disorder, business and finance leaders can no longer afford to be reticent. Instead, they should do three things to make a strong, renewed case for international cooperation.

For starters, they need to rediscover and recommit to the core values and principles of key multilateral organizations, principally the WTO and the UN.

These organizations embody the belief that, more often than not, countries will achieve better long-term outcomes by acting together than by going it alone.

In this regard, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made a persuasive case for a “networked multilateralism” that connects bodies such as his with important regional organizations and initiatives.

Second, corporate chiefs should formally endorse important multilateral private-sector initiatives.

The thousands of companies and investors that have signed the UN Global Compact and the Principles for Responsible Investment, for example, are still in the minority. Many more must step up and sign on.

Other important private-sector programs with a multilateral origin or orientation include the banking sector’s Equator Principles (originally from the World Bank) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

These and other similar initiatives help in two ways. Many of them — including the UN Global Compact — involve multi-stakeholder collaboration. In other words, they bring together the private and public sectors, civil society and other actors to address critical international issues such as the rule of law, global governance and climate change.

In addition, global policymakers frequently respond to these initiatives and coalitions by creating new possibilities for cooperation.

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