Ultimately, and I speak from my experience as a former minister of commerce in Costa Rica, we must recognize that trade agreements, especially those that are effective, are difficult to negotiate and difficult to approve in Congress. Normally, there is a great political debate surrounding these agreements, but the fact that these discussions are strong and lively is positive. It is positive because it can lead to a better understanding of the content of these agreements, what needs to be done to maximise their positive effects and also what should be done to deal with the possible unintended consequences of the agreement. However, there are concerns that mega-regional agreements may undermine the relevance of the multilateral trading system. We need to find creative ways to give a new energy boost to the system, including agreements under the aegis of the WTO, which could then be extended to other non-members. It also means intensifying the monitoring and evaluation of the main provisions of these agreements by the WTO and other international organisations, and then focusing the WTO negotiations on reducing trade costs – a very relevant approach. AG: In some (advanced) countries, there is a counter-reaction against trade agreements and, more broadly, against globalization. The contradiction can be based on several reasons. Part of the opposition may relate to the content of the agreement – there are provisions in these agreements that are controversial; part of these agreements may be linked to a misunderstanding of the content of the agreements.
The contradiction may also result from the perceived effects of the agreement. While the agreement may benefit society as a whole, there are also concerns for groups or individuals who might be affected or who might not be able to seize the opportunities. In the internal political debate, opposition to trade agreements can also be used as a means of pressure to achieve other goals, or sometimes it can also fall back on ideology. AG: There are different actors and different stakeholders in the public debate in different countries, and they bring their views – their very important views – to the table and the negotiations have to take their course. However, it is important to keep in mind that, in order to continue to bring economic benefits, trade must be underpinned by strict rules and disciplines to support market integration. Globalization requires these rules in order to reap their economic benefits. Through multilateral cooperation and economic integration, trade agreements, we will be better able to cope with globalisation. Alongside international cooperation, domestic policy in the areas of education, health, safety nets, better trading environments and improved infrastructure is important for globalization to work for all. And the last element is to be engaged. We must also realize that there is a lot of irrationality in public discourse. The fact is that trade agreements are necessary to cope with growing interdependencies and can generate welfare gains. Policymakers need to exchange evidence and enlighten the public, while directly addressing some of the unfounded arguments that are being made.
AG: At 3%, world trade in 2015 is for the fourth year in a row with slow growth compared to the pre-crisis average of 7 percent.