B20 Tokyo 2019: Ai Group advocates for free and fair trade rules

With Trade Wars between our two largest trading partners, the indecision of Brexit and WTO paralysis, it can feel like Australian businesses are flotsam in a sea of trade uncertainty. Fortunately, Ai Group has a global voice though our membership of the Global Business Coalition, and our founding role as part of the B20.

The B20 became the first engagement group of the G20 in 2010 and has served to provide practical policy recommendations from a business viewpoint to the G20. Through promoting collaboration between business and policymakers, the B20 has served the G20 leaders to make political decisions based on actual needs and global solutions.

With Japan the host of G20 2019, they organised the B20 process a little differently to previous years, nominating one leading business organisation for each G20 country to provide input on behalf of the local business community.

For Australia, that is the Australian Industry Group.

The framework in which we were invited to view our B20 recommendations was the Sustainable Development Goals, and the ways in which the international business community can support those goals through economic and digital inclusion and environmentally focused work practices. Ai Group contributed nine concrete examples of Australian businesses living up to this challenge.

Ai Group takes the view that the best way to reduce poverty in the world is to provide opportunities for work, and the best way to support jobs is to encourage a stable and open global trading system, such as the WTO. While the WTO is struggling under the weight of modern trade practices, including digital trade, it requires the support of all WTO members to adapt and evolve to meet these challenges.

The statement that caused the most angst among our B20 colleagues was this:

Anti-globalisation sentiment is on the rise due to various factors. These issues pose serious challenges to existing governance structures. To overcome these challenges in a steadfast manner, the rules based, free, fair and open international economic order needs to be strengthened through enhanced policy coordination, updated rules and increased compliance. In parallel, each country should undertake the necessary structural reforms in a decisive manner.

Most Australian businesses would find this a rather mild statement, hardly worth the 30-minute debate in a 1-hour call that it elicited. However, such is the contested trade environment that we now operate in, it threatened to derail the whole statement.

The second statement that caused great debate related to digital trade:

Establish the next generation data governance framework

From the perspective of fostering e-commerce, we recommend to accord non-discriminatory treatments to digital products and services, and not to impose customs duties on electronic transmissions. Moreover, in light of national laws and regulations that differ from country to country, priority must be given to the following items in establishing the next-generation data governance framework:

  • Promote international interoperability of risk-based security and privacy protection standards across jurisdictions so as to ensure the free flow of data, information, ideas and knowledge across borders, while respecting applicable legal frameworks for privacy, data protection, and intellectual property rights.
  • Foster e-commerce by ensuring the independence of business decisions regarding the location of computing facilities and confidentiality of corporate information.

Again, hardly revolutionary stuff, but also a red line for Ai Group, and a statement that advocated any less would not have been acceptable.

The final recommendations reflecting the consensus position of the B20 members will be used by the G20 to produce its own statement when the leaders meet in Osaka in June. Ai Group’s hope is that they too will support open and fair global trading rules and progressive rules on digital trade and we will be advocating this in all channels available to us.

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Having joined Ai Group in 2000, Louise has managed a number of trade-related projects including trade missions, business matching and the development of export-related training programs. Since 2009 she has led Ai Group's service delivery to our smaller associations, providing governance, policy and business development support, and is Executive Officer of the Australia Saudi Business Council and the Australian Russian Dialogue.

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