New York, World Trade Symposium. With the world trade order under threat from protectionist movements, tit-for-tat tariffs, and a shift away from free and open trade, TFG’s Editor Deepesh Patel caught up with ICC’s Secretary General and Member of the World Trade Board, John Denton at Finastra’s World Trade Symposium.
Featuring: John W.H. Denton AO, Secretary General, International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and Board member of the United Nations Global Compact
Host: Deepesh Patel, Editor, Trade Finance Global
DP: John Denton, thank you very much for joining us on Trade Finance Talks TV, here at the World Trade Symposium. With your positions within the ICC, UN and B20, what does a typical day look like for you?
A Day in the Life of the ICC’s Secretary General
John Denton: Thank you very much for having me. Great to be in New York, great to have a chat!
Wow, great question. Well, maybe I’ll answer it this way. So my job really is focused on transforming the ICC to ensure that it’s relevant and plays its historic role, but in the context of the 21st century. So it’s a big responsibility, because ultimately, we are the institutional voice of 45 million businesses globally, what I’ve been working on particularly the last six months, has been ensuring that our redefined purpose is fully understood because that actually is incredibly important for the transformation.
We enable business worldwide to secure peace, prosperity and opportunity for all, this plays homage to our founders in 1919, who believe that if goods could cross borders, which often need to be accompanied by troops, then there was a higher probability of peace, prosperity opportunity for all. So we come from that kind of DNA.
We genuinely believe that the private sector, when unleashed, is actually a force for good. And our job at the ICC is to do that, clearly to ensure that we have clarity around our purpose is critical for this whole issue of, of ensuring that we’re relevant the 21st century, the same time I need to try to align the organisation so I work on things like it’s called transformation. So working on transforming the public position of the organisation, the way that the organisation operates to support that, the culture of looking at the economic model, there are a lot of things and simultaneously, I need to advance the cause. So, advocacy is critical. Communicating is critical. And there’s just stuff you’ve got to do.
So we’ve established a hub in APAC, we already have physical presences in New York and London. We actually have through our network, over 100 countries. We have more than that when we combine the Chambers of Commerce that are part of us. That’s great, but we need to ensure that we’re rewriting our activity and the way in which we organise ourselves to reflect that certain moment.
I’m in the process of creating a model which will help us have hubs to represent more effectively the pan-Arab business world, the African business voice, the Latin American business voice, the Asian business voice. We already have that as part of the storey of the ICC. But what I want to do now is I’ll just have organising principles, but actually put clear stakes in the ground to lend to our authenticity. Because what we bring is the institutional voice of world business into public policy debates. Our aim is to mobilise that effectively, in a way to bend the world to help us enable business in the 21st century. And we mapped out some pretty clear spaces to do that, around issues to do with maintaining, and actually ensuring that the multilateral trading system is fit for purpose. We genuinely believe that we’ve got to have a planet we can trade on. So we’re working very hard on climate and economic climate. We actually think technology is a great enabler. So we’re working on a campaign to make technology work for all. We think that if inequality rises in an automated way that will become an impediment to the operation of the market economy. And actually, which is a huge driver of opportunity for business, but more importantly, to allow business to do what it does best, which is help build communities, create opportunities for people. So we think that’s a real issue. And we think a lot of the short term view – that we see is a bad thing. So we’re focusing on how you lead for long term. So we’ve articulated capture that and five campaigns, which we see is organising principles, and we’re working our way through that. We’ve issued a declaration of our intent for the 21st century as well. So we intend to be able to measure our process. So it’s kind of a busy day.
Megatrends in Global Trade
DP: So what are the 2 – 3 megatrends that you’re seeing right now, when it comes to global trade, and how is this affecting ICC members?
JD: Well, I mean, it’s a great question, actually. We have three different dimensions, which are all really important.
The first is the ability to trade. The second is how you trade. And the third is – do you have the confidence of the global community to allow you to continue to trade? So there are issues there.
In terms of trends, I think challenges to maintaining open borders is important about the ability to trade. I think there’s a real issue about the transformation of structural change to the nature of trade. So the shift from just goods to services issue about free flow of data, how that will operate. This is all the way how the digital economy will operate. And when you think about do you have the right to trade is a real issue about, I think emerging issue around trust and confidence. Do we have the trust? Have we built the trust? Have we actually ensured that the global community trust business to allow it to continue to trade? I think the answer to that is yes, it should. Do we need to work on that? We need to work on this. And I think they are sort of different dimensions of this global trend around the ability to trade how you trade and the right to trade.
DP: How are you dealing with all of the global uncertainty and promoting open free trade when the world order is perhaps singing from a slightly different hymn sheet?
JD: Well stay true to our DNA? I mean, as I said, we’ve got a very clear purpose. We are a purpose-led organisation. Our purpose is about enabling trade. So clearly, we need to ensure policy framework support that. So this whole issue about ensuring the borders remain open. We need to build capability to do that as well. So we need to ensure that businesses have the skills ability, that they have the rules they could work with, particularly in the new form of the economy, which is really digital economy, that we don’t leave anyone behind that we ensure the digital economy is actually governed in a way that can enable trade as well. And we focus on those sorts of things. I mean, the ICC is a peculiar beast, I mean, our size, the heft. I mean, it’s actually unbelievable in a way the size of which we operate, the scale at which we operate. But one of the treasures of the ICC because of that here is we can create norms and standards, we can actually govern parts of the economy where governments cannot govern, because the parties want us to, because of the scale, we can create norms and standards, which people can then apply. The genius of the ICC, if I can put the way is that we can only set norms and standards, but because we created the leading courts of private arbitration, we’re able to determine and adjudicate when there’s disputes about the application of those norms. We haven’t ICC governance model is quite unique is quite distinct. And it’s actually a suspect for the next period of time, particularly in the digital economy, when it’s unclear what the capacity of global governments to reach an agreement, which will allow for a suppose, a commons, the Digital Commons that the ICC obligation as an independent, trusted institution, and not for profit with the ability to govern, we need to stand up in that area as well.
Transitioning to a Green Economy
DP: So one key theme that’s important for the ICC is the green economy. How does sustainability and green finance and I guess even the SDGs, linking with trade, trade finance and the ICC’s mission?
JD: What’s really interesting for me, maybe I’ll just reduce it down to how I’ve been talking about particularly when I’m talking outside major cities with smaller groups of people. Because there’s always a question why are we getting involved in climate change, why we are actually talking about Paris. But the fact is you don’t trade in isolation. And if you think about it in, in the macro, a lot of trade policy has, in a sense, it’s being created in isolation. And there are other policy frameworks that have been created in isolation. But when you think about some of the big global challenges there, I think the term is used transversal, or global in nature. So some form of multilateralism needs to actually be applied in order to help resolve those issues.
But why do we get involved in issues to do with climate and the environment? In fact, these businesses don’t operate in isolation and operate in a bubble. They’re actually grounded in communities, they are grounded in communities which operate in an environment they actually seek to operate within that. I actually in my experience, I don’t know a business person who is looking at the SDGs, who wants to enslave workers as their principal. I don’t know a businessman who wants a businessman or businesswoman who wants to make a difficult for equity to apply to women in the workplace, I don’t know a business person who actually denies the right of people for access to justice. I don’t know, a business person who wants to pollute around that. I mean, I know I’m putting it very boldly. But the fact is, they already have an interest in the essence of what supports these Sustainable Development Goals. And because of the reality of how they operate, they have an interest in preserving and improving and creating a sustainable climate, they actually have an interest in the application of Paris to ensure we have a planet we can try it on. At SDGs is to enable us to have a system like a market-based economy for us to operate in as well. And frankly, a lot of the other stuff around a green nature of finance, this is all helpful, but part of that is actually shifting finance to respect the reality of the risk of not doing these issues and waiting it properly and making their finance available to support activities, which are actually supportive of sustainable development of powers.
I don’t know a business person who is looking at the SDGs, who wants to enslave workers as their principal. I don’t know a businessman who wants a businessman or businesswoman who wants to make a difficult for equity to apply to women in the workplace, I don’t know a business person who actually denies the right of people for access to justice. I don’t know, a business person who wants to pollute around that. I mean, I know I’m putting it very boldly. But the fact is, they already have an interest in the essence of what supports these Sustainable Development Goals.John Denton, ICC Secretary General
Inspiring the Next Generation of Leaders
DP: John, one final question, and I guess there’s one for our younger listeners and under aspiring young leaders, what advice would you give to the young leaders of today’s generation?
JD: Well, step up, step up. There’s a void at the moment. And if you look at the data, one of the disturbing features is that there’s a lack of trust, which has emerged at quite a dramatic pace. In traditional forms of authority, employees are looking for businesses to stand up and promote young people or mid career people.
Don’t wait to be asked… you bring something which is extremely important to the global debate – you bring your inexperience that is fundamentally important, because it allows you to say, ‘why not’.John Denton, ICC Secretary General
You can’t wait back. Don’t wait to be asked… you bring something which is extremely important to the global debate – you bring your inexperience that is fundamentally important, because it allows you to say, ‘why not’.
And I think that’s one of the powers of stepping up at this point. time because the established framework requires some significant and constructive disruption, which the next generation will bring. Great. Maybe (I can help too!)
Trade Finance Global spoke to John Denton at the Finastra World Trade Symposium, held in New York, October 2019.