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Global trade virtual week: From survival mode to sustainability

Published 27 July 2021

Hinrich Foundation Senior Research Fellow Stephen Olson presented the key findings of the latest iteration of the bi-annual Sustainable Trade Index on July 1, during The Economist's Global Trade Virtual Week.

Attended by over 4,000 individuals, this year's Global Trade Virtual Week was held from June 28th to July 2nd on the theme of "Prosperity powered by trust: technology, data and supply chain resilience". Hinrich Foundation Senior Research Fellow Stephen Olson was a speaker on the fourth day, during a solo segment in which he explained how the bi-annual Sustainable Trade Index could help to inform global resilience, especially in the post-pandemic world.

Below are some key highlights from his presentation:

  • Sustainable trade essentially means engaging in international trade in a way that not only generates balanced economic growth but also strengthens social capital and provides environmental stewardship.
  • Based on the landmark work of the UN Brundtland Commission, the STI has three pillars of sustainability: economic, social, and environmental.
  • STI evaluates the trade sustainability of 19 Asian economies plus the US as an external benchmark. Japan and South Korea were tied for first place in 2020 STI.
  • What impact will the pandemic have on sustainable trade? Still too early to tell, but there are reasons for both pessimism and optimism.
  • Unfortunately, countries under economic duress sometimes try to take short cuts to growth such as reducing labor or environmental standards. This will always backfire.
  • Fortunately, many of the pandemic stimulus programs require greater sustainability. The phrase “build back better” might actually become a reality.

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Stephen Olson

From 2014 to January 2024, Mr. Olson was a Senior Research Fellow of the Hinrich Foundation. Mr. Olson began his career in Washington DC as an international trade negotiator and served on the US negotiating team for the NAFTA negotiations.

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