Report: Countries should help people hurt by free trade | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 10.04.2017
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Report: Countries should help people hurt by free trade

The world isn't doing enough to help workers and communities displaced by global free trade, says a new report. It calls on countries to put in place necessary measures to help those who lose out in global competition.

The world's richer countries should help workers affected by trade liberalization, which has grown increasingly unpopular in the post-financial crisis era, driving a rise in protectionism, according to a report published Monday.

The report, jointly produced by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and World Trade Organization (WTO), called for greater job training, stronger social safety nets and other policies that could ease the shocks from shifting industries and greater competition, particularly in the United States and Europe.

The report was released in advance of this month's IMF-World Bank spring meetings.

Trade generates benefits

The three multinational groups insist that greater progress toward freer trade is "important to reinvigorating global growth," repeating their longstanding view that free trade spreads broad economic benefits.

Deutschland Merkel trifft Spitzen internationaler Finanzorganisationen (picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld)

The bosses of global economic bodies held talks with Chancellor Merkel on Monday in Berlin

Open markets and increased competition can help poor countries rise from poverty, lower prices in rich countries and force companies and countries to become more efficient and focus on what they do best.

On Monday, the heads of major international economic bodies, including the IMF, World Bank and WTO, met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin to discuss issues related to world trade. After their meeting, Merkel said she hoped for continuity when it came to policies in areas such as trade and climate change, despite growing protectionist tendencies worldwide.  

Roberto Azevedo, the head of the WTO, said after the meeting with Merkel that it was important to note the positive impacts of trade.

"But also we must recognize the concerns of people about trade and the impact that it can have in their lives," he told reporters. "We need to ensure the benefits of trade are shared more widely. We should also recognize at the same time that 80 percent of the jobs that are lost today in the advanced economies are not due to imports. They are lost because of new technologies, innovation and higher productivity."

Many left behind

The global institutions, however, admit that those who lose out in global competition can be hit harder and suffer longer than previously understood. The organizations want countries to make it easier for people to switch careers or move where jobs are and in some cases to provide insurance for lost wages.

"To be sure, job losses in certain sectors or regions in advanced economies have resulted to a large extent from technological changes rather than from trade," the report said.

"But adjustment to trade can bring a human and economic downside that is frequently concentrated, sometimes harsh, and has too often become prolonged."

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Global trade grew six percent annually from 1960 until 2007 - the start of the global financial crisis - a phenomenon that produced average annual economic growth of three percent during the same period, according to the report.

"Since the early 2000s, however, a slowdown in the pace of trade reform, a post-crisis uptick in protectionism and risk of further reversals have been a drag on trade, productivity and income growth."

According to one study cited by the report, trade with China resulted in the loss of a million US manufacturing jobs and 1.4 million non-manufacturing jobs between 1999 and 2011.

"Too many individuals and communities ... have been left behind by trade: there are legitimate reasons for discontent," the report said.

sri/mds (AFP, AP)

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