With a populist wave of anti-globalization sentiment washing over many Western countries – or threatening to do so – Business at OECD (BIAC) convened a first-ever roundtable of heads of communications from its member federations, to discuss the urgent challenge of promoting informed discussion of cross-border trade and investment with an increasingly skeptical public.
The roundtable, which took place December 7 at OECD headquarters in Paris, assembled business communicators from a dozen OECD member states, including USCIB Vice President Jonathan Huneke. They discussed common – and, in many cases, unique – challenges they face in their own countries, and brainstormed ways to push back against the rising tide of isolationist and anti-trade rhetoric.
“It’s no secret that the election results in the United States, coupled with the Brexit vote in Britain and the recent popular referendum in Italy, have dealt a stinging rebuke to pro-trade forces, both in business and government,” said Huneke. “We need to marshal the facts, and develop more compelling arguments, in favor of open markets, multilateral cooperation and greater global integration.”
Participants at the roundtable met with Anthony Gooch, the OECD’s director of public affairs and communications, as well as Adam Roberts, European business correspondent with The Economist. BIAC Secretary General Bernhard Welschke also participated. One common theme that emerged is the importance of rebutting populist anger without appearing to talk down to voters who subscribe to it.
“Angry people often behave irrationally, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a rational basis for their anger,” Huneke noted. “We agreed on the need for policy makers to take voter unhappiness seriously and address its underlying causes, including insufficient opportunity and social safety nets in many countries. But we also know that it is our shared responsibility to develop more effective ways of helping people understand the broad, and indisputable, benefits of economic openness to society and to individuals.”
The OECD plans to hold a workshop for communications professionals involved in international trade in April 2017. More details will be shared as planning for the program develops.
While in Paris, Huneke also attended the annual Business Day at OECD, where BIAC members met with leadership and program directors from the 35-nation body to discuss a wide range of issues and priorities. Check back here shortly for a report on Business Day.