Global Cooperation

Global cooperation is stalling – but new trade pacts show collaboration is still possible. Here are 6 to know about

Trade is bucking the wider downward trend in global cooperation, according to the World Economic Forum's 2024 Global Cooperation Barometer.

Trade is bucking the wider downward trend in global cooperation, according to the World Economic Forum's 2024 Global Cooperation Barometer. Image: Unsplash/charlesdeluvio

Simon Torkington
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Global Cooperation

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

This article was first published in January 2024 and was updated in March 2024.

  • Global cooperation is declining as the world faces a series of crises.
  • Trade is one area where the trend is being overcome with new pacts and deals.
  • The World Economic Forum’s Global Cooperation Barometer highlights trade as a unifying force.

The complex challenges that face the world today – conflict, the climate crisis and economic challenges – all require cooperation to overcome.

It won’t have escaped your attention, however, that globally, cooperation and collaboration are being eroded and being replaced by competition, adding to the difficulty of bringing stability to a world in turmoil.

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The World Economic Forum’s Global Cooperation Barometer 2024 – published in partnership with McKinsey, sums up the current challenges as follows:

“Heightened competition and conflict appear to be replacing cooperation. The result is that new power dynamics, changing demographic realities and breakthrough frontier technologies are raising the temperature on long-simmering distrust rather than fueling opportunities for benefit.”

While there is doubtless cause for concern at the current state of global mistrust – there is also room for optimism. The Global Cooperation Barometer uses a number of metrics to assess the state of global cooperation – and trade is bucking the wider downward trend.

Graphs showcasing the cooperation trends by pillar.
Cooperation on trade has increased in recent years as global trust has declined. Image: World Economic Forum

Enhancing cooperation through trade was a major talking point at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

The report concludes that “cooperation is multifaceted and can coexist with competition”. Proof of this comes in the form of a raft of recently agreed trade deals that demonstrate that cooperation is still possible in fractious times.

Here are six trade deals to know about.

The EU and Singapore make a digital trade pact

The EU-Singapore Digital Partnership (EUSDP) was signed in February 2023. It’s a digital-only customs agreement that allows digital services to be traded with less bureaucracy. The pact enables businesses to provide 5G and 6G networks, online payments and digital IDs while upholding the privacy of service users.

The services trade between the European bloc and Singapore is valued at more than $50 billion. The EUSDP is the fifth digital-only trade deal Singapore has signed.

Have you read?

China signs free trade deal with Ecuador

Ecuador and China signed a deal in May 2023 that is set to boost Ecuador’s non-oil exports to China by $3bn to $4bn, according to a report in the Financial Times. The FT says; “the deal allows preferential access for 99% of exports to China … in particular agricultural and agro-industrial products including shrimp, bananas, cut flowers, cocoa and coffee. It excludes 800 products to protect local manufacturing.”

The UK joins an Asia-Pacific trade bloc

As part of its efforts to deepen global trade ties after leaving the European Union, the UK government agreed to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – made up of 11 other countries, including Australia, Viet Nam and Mexico – in July 2023.

On its website, the UK government says: “CPTPP membership will bring a range of benefits, including lower trade barriers to a dynamic region expected to become increasingly significant in the global economy”. However, the UK government’s own assessment says the economic gains will be limited, adding 0.06% of annual GDP in the long run.

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The EU and New Zealand team up for a free trade agreement

In 2023, the European Union and New Zealand signed a trade pact, concluding five years of discussions. The agreement is set to significantly reduce costs for EU businesses, potentially saving them upwards of $153 million annually in duties. The deal will boost trade by more than 30% and will save New Zealand businesses an estimated $62 million a year in tariffs. The deal covers sectors, including digital trade and services, with a focus on areas such as compliance, intellectual property and telecommunications.

The Atlantic Declaration by the United States and the United Kingdom

Since leaving the EU, the UK has pursued a comprehensive post-Brexit trade deal with the US, its biggest trading partner. This has not yet been agreed, but the Atlantic Declaration cements what is frequently termed “the special relationship”.

A White House statement on the launch of the deal said: “The United States and the United Kingdom resolve to partner to build resilient, diversified, and secure supply chains and reduce strategic dependencies. We remain committed to continuing to lead in the technologies of the future and advance the closest possible coordination on our economic security and technology protection toolkits.”

India signs trade accord with 4 European nations

After a decade of non-participation in free trade agreements, in 2022, India began embarking on FTAs, to become one of the most FTA-engaged countries in the world.

In March 2024, the country signed a $1 billion free trade deal with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which is made up of Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

The FTA includes a commitment of $100 billion in investments, as well as the creation of a million direct jobs in India over the next 15 years, according to AP. In return, India will lift most import tariffs on industrial goods from the four EFTA countries.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: "This landmark pact underlines our commitment to boosting economic progress and creating opportunities for our youth."

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Days later, Prime Minister Modi held talks with the British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on an FTA, which has been under discussion for two years.

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Related topics:
Global CooperationDavos AgendaTrade and Investment
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