Day 1

Re-imagine globalisation to make it beneficial for all 

With rising geopolitical tensions and protectionism threatening co-operation between countries and international organisations, the first day of the 13th World Chambers Congress in Geneva tackled the theme of multilateralism, and the role business can play to make it work for everyone, everywhere, every day.

In the opening session on Uniting business globally, improving lives locally, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General World Trade Organisation (WTO), called for business leaders to speak up for “re-globalisation.”

“We must push back against the pressures for global economic fragmentation, which will be costly, and could well weaken supply chain resilience,” said Ms Okonjo-Iweala. “A better path forward is what we’re calling re-globalisation: deeper, more de-concentrated markets achieved by bringing more people and places from the margins of the global economy to the mainstream.”


Recent crises such as the global pandemic have exposed the perils of clustering certain economic activities, such as vaccine manufacturing, in the hands of just a few countries, she said. To overcome this hurdle, businesses should re-assess their appetite for risk and diversify into previously overlooked parts of the world to build more resilience into supply chains and make the gains from trade more inclusive.

Echoing Ms Okonjo-Iweala, Philippe Varin, First Vice-Chair of the International Chamber of Commerce stressed that functioning multilateralism was essential for the technological innovation needed to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges, such as climate change, and increase the prosperity of everyone on the planet.

Business can play an essential role in shaping multilateralism by providing a “reality check” of what is happening on the ground, he said. Mr Varin also called on business to be bolder in embracing the opportunities presented by ESG and noted the need for more inclusive boards and executive teams inside multinational corporations to improve the understanding between the Global North and Global South.

John W.H. Denton AO, Secretary General of ICC concluded the session saying that ICC with its World Chambers Federation was the inclusive representative of global business and enabling platform to drive “reglobalisation”.

Multilateralism for the 21st century 

There has never been a greater need for multilateralism, said Tatiana Valovaya, Director General of the United Nations Office Geneva in a session on Chambers and business: 21st century merchants of peaceBut she stressed that this process needs to consider the voices of more member states and women’s groups to become more inclusive.

Panelists agreed that the private sector needs to play a major role in shaping global governance rules. With Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) responsible for 90% of global trade, it is important to amplify their voices, said Executive Director of the International Trade Center Pamela Coke-Hamilton.

How to connect MSMEs to the benefits of international trade was the topic of the next session on Facilitating trade: partnering for global growth.

A lack of a unified system for exporting goods and services, information discrepancies, and high import duties are hampering MSMEs access to global markets, said Mohammad Ali Rashed Lootah, President and CEO Dubai Chambers.

One potential solution is digitalisation, said Eric Loeb, Executive Vice-President Salesforce which can act as an “equalizer for organisations of smaller scale” by enabling them to access the same platforms of larger corporations. Artificial Intelligence also has a role to play in helping MSMEs overcome the lack of access to information and expertise, he said.

A fragmentation of the digital space and a lack of technological skills, however, could pose further challenges, said Arancha González, Dean of the Paris School of International Affairs (PISA), Sciences Po. Mr Lootah added that it was important to involve the private sector, including MSMEs, in any discussions on policy reforms.

Push back against the pushback 

Voicing her concerns that trade was increasingly becoming the scapegoat for domestic issues in many countries, Ms González issued a clarion call for chambers to become more vocal about the value of international trade to generate jobs, growth, and innovation, as well as to increase competitiveness. She urged business to make the case for a level playing field at the global level and to advocate for strong social security nets in their own countries.

“If people feel insecure, if they see inequality rising, they will blame international trade,” she said. “Push back against the pushback on trade. That’s your mission!”

Arancha González, Dean of the Paris School of International Affairs (PISA), Sciences Po.

For small companies considered “too small to matter”, it is crucial that they can enjoy the advocacy of organisations like ICC because they are not significant enough for countries to protect, said Marjorie Young, Chair of Esquel Group, in a session on Multilateralism in times of disruption: double back to move forward. 

“It is important for us to thrive because we are small enough to understand each member of our community and take care of them,” said Ms Young. “For inclusive growth, too small to matter companies play an important role.”

In the next five years we will have as much change caused by technological progress as we have had in the last 20 years, said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.

Faced with this disruption in a multipolar world, organisations will have to concentrate on the issues that are top of their concerns, be this international trade or the regulation of new technologies and work together with all stakeholders, he added.

John W.H. Denton AO, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Commerce, said there was a growing realisation that the private sector was needed to solve these global problems. “The private sector can no longer be an observer of the world. Through ICC they will be the legitimate player at the table,” he said.

Mr Schwab agreed, noting that business had a big chance to make its voice heard on a range of issues such as on the governance of technology and to actively shape policies from the start.

To do so, the private sector needs to be given legitimacy in multilateral forums, said Denton. “We have a right to be there because of the role we play in driving the global economy and providing employment,” he said, adding: “If we are not, the spaces that need to be filled with sensible policymaking will be left vacant. And we need to enable sensible policymaking to enable business worldwide to do what it does best which is enable peace, prosperity and opportunity for all.”

Building on the theme of how business can drive peace and prosperity, one of the final sessions of the day examined the role of commerce in securing a peaceful future for Ukraine.

Gennadiy Chyzhykov, President of the Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, described how 85% of businesses had continued operating in the country despite the war, while Taras Kachka, Deputy Minister of Economy Ukraine, said the country’s “economic engine” was a key part of maintaining the resilience of society.

Meanwhile, some six million Ukrainians are currently living abroad, said Inna Malaia, Founder and CEO Bevel World. With 80% of those Ukrainians expressing a desire to go back to their home country, it’s important that they are given the chance to grow their skills and have access to the job market while displaced.

“There are heroes that are fighting for the country on the frontline, but there are also the heroes that will rebuild the economy during the post-war recovery,” she said.

The first day of the congress ended on high note with the unveiling of the Geneva Manifesto, a pledge by chambers of commerce to revitalise international trade with a renewed commitment to multilateralism for peace and prosperity. The manifesto was revealed during a symbolic signing ceremony led by ICC Chair Maria Fernanda Garza, WCF Chair Nicolas Uribe, CCIG President Gilles Rüfenacht, ICC Secretary General John W.H. Denton AO, and CCIG Director General Vincent Subilia.

This wrap-up was provided by IMD, the academic partner of the 13th edition of the World Chambers Congress.

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