On Friday, April 13, the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise hosted its inaugural, day-long Global Trade, Global Trade-Offs: Emerging Challenges in International Commerce Conference at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. The day’s events featured plenaries, panel discussions and Q&A sessions with highly distinguished members of business, economics and academia focused largely on the rapidly evolving landscape of international trade.
AGCO Corporation CEO Martin Richenhagen delivered a keynote to open the day, capturing the attention of the audience with his varied experiences and unique viewpoint in his role as president of the U.S. farm equipment manufacturing firm which serves communities worldwide.
Richenhagen highlighted what he believes will be the new world dilemma: the extreme growth of the middle class and the impending need to accommodate and feed this population. Alongside this increase in demand, there is a growing desire for better quality food products, which are locally sourced, organic and free-range. He pointed to global trade as a way to accomplish these goals.
“International trade supports economic growth,” he said. “[Global trade] creates employment, provides consumer benefits and makes prices more stable.”
In order to provide for such a large population, Richenhagen pointed to farming itself. In the past, planting and harvesting decisions came from a farmer’s gut feeling, past experience or imitation of a neighbor, rather than from scientific prediction and documented trends. To combat the inherent uncertainty of traditional methods, AGCO invests up to $350 million each year in research and development to better understand the science of farming.
One of the company’s most innovative efforts to revolutionize the industry is happening in Africa – home to the youngest growing population in the world. There, AGCO employees train local farmers in forward-thinking techniques and introduce them to state-of-the-art technologies to improve their harvests.
“Competition makes you move faster, makes you more creative and more innovative,” Richenhagen shared. “It promotes productivity and efficiency.”
Following Richenhagen’s address, the audience broke into smaller groups for topic-specific breakout sessions. The sessions included topics like the impact of global trade on the U.S., the implications of global business for U.S. interests, the impact of trade on wages, the connection between tax reform and global business, global supply chains and gains from efficiency and the impact of trade on environmental, social and governmental best practices.
Gallup CEO Jim Clifton delivered a compelling keynote during lunch. He shared that while he’s seen many transitions during his 40-year tenure with the company, the most rapid growth and disruption to industry has happened over the last five years.
Clifton broke down the current economy, drawing attention to the discrepancies between how the economic climate is portrayed by the media as an “economic recovery,” but is not considered so by many economists. If the country was treated like a company, he said, the deficit would be alarming.
But Clifton believes it has the potential to be restored if we move our focus from innovation to emphasizing the unique perspectives of customers worldwide.
“The single best thing for humankind is free enterprise… and global trade,” Clifton said. “We need to start seeing the world through customers.”
Clifton’s final note sparked a greater question as to how the country is oriented at a fundamental level. Regarding the future batch of young dreamers, he challenged older generations to refrain from asking “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and instead ask, “What do you want to build?”
At the close of more breakout sessions, the conference concluded with a keynote from Prof. Jagdish Bhagwati, renowned Columbia University professor, economist and director of the Raj Center on Indian Economies. The address also served as UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s Annual Weatherspoon Lecture. Bhagwati interlaced issues of international trade under the Trump and Obama administrations, discussing the origins of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and examining both the challenges and benefits of global trade.
He also shared his recommendations on how to convey globalization benefits to people who don’t understand them.
“We write and we raise an army of students to teach,” Bhagwati emphasized. “There are dozens of ways to define social inequality, and all of them have a social context. We need to allow for diversity in defining the issue.”
Learn more and register for upcoming events at Frank H. Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise.