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COMMENT: In defense of globalisation

COMMENT: By Jim O’Neill

Globalisation’s critics – those wrongly considering it a zero-sum game –won’t fight global poverty

I was recently in beautiful Chile for a Futures Congress, and I had a chance to travel south to the very tip of Latin America. I also recently made a BBC radio documentary called “Fixing Globalisation,” in which I crisscrossed the United Kingdom in search of ideas for improving certain aspects of it and discussed topical issues with well-known experts. In both cases, I saw things that convinced me that it is past time for someone to come to globalisation’s defense.

Chile today is Latin America’s richest country, with per capita GDP of around $23,000 – similar to that of Central European countries. This is quite an achievement for a country that depends so heavily on copper production, and it sets Chile apart from many of its neighbours. Like many other countries, Chile is facing economic challenges, and its growth rate leaves something to be desired; but it also has many promising opportunities beyond its borders.

For example, when I led a review on antimicrobial resistance, I learned that copper has powerful antibacterial properties and is an ideal material for use in health-care facilities where bacteria often spread. This means that copper producers such as Chile, Australia, and Canada can improve global health – and boost exports – by introducing affordable copper infrastructure into hospitals and other clinical settings around the world.

Chile is also a storehouse of knowledge for managing earthquakes and tsunamis. While I was there, I visited La Serena, which in 2015 experienced the sixth-strongest earthquake ever recorded. But the ensuing tsunami killed only 11 people, though it surely would have killed far more in many other places. Chilean officials’ advanced preparation and rapid response seems to have made the difference. With so much institutional experience, Chile can be a valuable resource for other countries threatened by seismic events.

La Serena is also near one of the world’s best stargazing sites, which attracts leading astronomers from around the globe. In fact, Chile hosts much remarkable collaboration among the world’s scientists, in part because it is just north of the Antarctic – long a site for scientific and environmental cooperation.

Beyond Chile, it is interesting that Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos this year. Now that Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States, and the United Kingdom is withdrawing from the European Union, I had assumed that such an elitist event’s glory days were behind it. Xi’s presence suggests that China is exploring where it can position itself on the world stage, and which elements of globalisation it can harness to its advantage, now that Western powers are turning inward.

Indeed, as the Chinese ambassador to the UK pointed out on my radio program, China is already the largest importer – yes, importer – for at least 70 countries, and accounts for about 10-11% of all imports globally. Despite its supposed economic challenges, China will likely be a bigger importer than the EU before this decade is over, and it will probably surpass the US soon thereafter.

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