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Hinrich Foundation presents the STI 2020 at the Excelsia- Lumen Symposium

Published 27 October 2020 | 8 minute read

Hinrich Foundation speakers presented key findings from the Hinrich Foundation Sustainable Trade Index (STI) 2020 and discussed politics and economics in the wake of the pandemic at the Excelsia- Lumen Symposium Series on 27 October 2020.

Hinrich Foundation speakers presented key findings from the Hinrich Foundation Sustainable Trade Index (STI) 2020 and discussed politics and economics in the wake of the pandemic at the Excelsia-Lumen Symposium Series on 27 October 2020.

Titled “The World After Covid-19”, this virtual event featured presentations from six experts in the fields of international trade, education, politics, technology, and culture. The speakers surveyed the post-pandemic landscape and identified key challenges – and opportunities – facing global society. The event’s keynote presenter was Prof. Gael McDonald and speakers included:

Hinrich Foundation Research Fellow Stephen Olson presented the third edition of the bi-annual Sustainable Trade Index. The Index, commissioned to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), evaluating the capacity of 20 Indo-Pacific economies for sustainable trade, and also examines the importance of sustainable trade for building more resilient economies and communities in the future. The latest STI results showed:

  • For the first time in the STI’s history, there is a tie for first place between Japan and South Korea. Both countries have been mainstays in the top five, but 2020 marks the first time for either to rank first.
  • America’s protectionist stance on trade prevented it from reaching the top five. Between Oct 2018 - Nov 2019, the US enacted 841 tariffs and 1430 non-tariff barriers.
  • China’s overall score was also held back by its poor performance in the social pillar, primarily due to human trafficking.
  • India, the world’s fifth-largest economy, fell two spots in the overall rankings from 2018. Aside from a lack of infrastructure, India’s low education coverage is identified as a critical issue for sustainable trade when roughly 700-800 million people do not have access to tertiary education, in the context of accelerated trade digitalization.
  • Finally, the most notable move in the index was in Vietnam. After making progress in previous editions of STI, there was backsliding relative to other countries in the index in the social and environmental pillars. That dragged its rank to 16th overall, just behind India and just ahead of Indonesia. For a country that is becoming the next hub of supply chains in the Asian region, that is not an encouraging development.

Stephen Olson teased out some of the policy implications raised by the report in the post-pandemic world. According to him, the covid-19 pandemic has highlighted that economies should avoid over-dependency in trade, maintain political stability to help ensure public buy-in for pandemic policies and adopt environmental stewardship that would help head-off future zoonotic diseases.

In his concluding remarks, Olson said there are optimism that pandemic could lead to advancement on sustainable trade. Businesses and investors are becoming proactive on sustainability and putting strong commitments to “build back better”, he noted.

However, concerns were also raised that economic distress could lead policymakers to cut labor and environmental protections in an attempt to stimulate economic recovery.

The event concluded with Andrew Staples who spoke on the global re-set of politics and economies in the wake of the pandemic.

On the economic-front, Staples highlighted that the global economy was already in a fragile condition in 2019 before the virus hit. In that year global GDP grew at its slowest rate since the global financial crisis that erupted in 2008.  In his presentation, Staples reminded the audience that the core megatrends shaping the world today - technology, climate change, inequality, urbanization, and demographics – have not disappeared as a result of the pandemic. Indeed, he stressed that the pandemic has amplified to address these issues so as to create sustainable and resilient economies.

Referring to pandemic politics, Staples said countries were facing a rise in public protests. Protectionism has grown as they have a lack of trust in governments in many parts of the world. Geopolitics was also being played out on the technology-front, with the US and China battling for tech supremacy, he noted.

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Pragya Bhatnagar

Pragya Bhatnagar is a former Research Associate with the Hinrich Foundation where he focused on International Trade Research.

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