Back to The Future

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Some years ago, the distinguished economist Richard Baldwin said: Preferential trade agreements PTAs increased from 20 back to the future trading to close to today, and have become a key feature of the international trade policy landscape.

Every country in the world is party to at least one PTA, with Mongolia the last to join the pack when it signed a deal with Japan in What will the outcome of this shock be? Are we in for a recess, retreat or back to the future trading of regional trade integration? Much depends on how other key players will respond to this shock. Though PTAs tend to be a tough political sell, governments pursue them because they increase productivity and benefit consumers; promote economic policy reform; underpin supply chains; and have other positive implications in terms of regional peace and security.

Also, though back to the future trading of the trade impact of PTAs vary, economists agree that they boost trade among members and hence, have positive effects on growth. Expectations were high, as these agreements would cover a significant part of world trade.

There were also concerns. How would these mega-regional agreements shape the global trading system? Would they be game changers or costly distractions? How would they impact non-members and how would they react? Fast forward to and the situation is very different. There has been a shock to the system, in the form of the repositioning of the US and the UK. The UK post-Brexit repositioning involves undoing a very deep trade integration scheme with the EU, and agreeing on new rules of engagement for a future economic partnership, while replicating or renegotiating some odd PTAs that came with EU membership — not a small task.

How will other countries reposition their policies to respond to the current shocks? Is the world in for a recess, a risk of retreat, or a revamping of PTAs? These are the questions of today — very different from those of barely a year and a half ago.

Among the challenges, there is some interesting news. Under the strategy that the best defence is a good offence, the Back to the future trading is bringing greater predictability to global trade. In Asia, countries are also moving forward. Japan has taken the leadership role in what seemed the unlikely resurrection of TPP after the US withdrawal. At the same time, the EU-Japan PTA — also to be back to the future trading in March — is a very significant economic cooperation commitment between these two leaders of world trade.

It is the most ambitious initiative to improve regional economic integration and connectivity on a transcontinental scale: Other regions are also actively engaged. In light of the above, the world is not in for a full retreat on PTAs. While some negotiations have been suspended, important trade agreements are being undone, and uncertainty underpins US involvement in the negotiation of trade agreements; the EU, Japan, China and others have picked up the baton and are leading the world to greater trade cooperation.

This is a sign of the new times. Back to the future trading leadership is welcome. It is doing a lot of good in itself, but it is also instrumental in keeping the door open for when others may be ready back to the future trading come back.

In addition, the cost of being left out is greater in a cooperative rather than a divided world, so they are increasing the likelihood that others may be willing to re-engage tomorrow.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum. We are using cookies to give you the best experience on our site. By continuing to use our site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You're rubbish at spotting mistakes. More on the agenda. Explore the latest strategic trends, research and analysis. International Trade and Investment View all. Africa has a new free trade area.

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Updated March 17, At first blush Wesfarmers' decision to spin-off its Coles business to pursue better growth opportunities is not a brilliant endorsement of the future of supermarkets in Australia. The Coles acquisition back in was seen at the time as a massive transformation for the Perth-based business, which had all sorts of bits and pieces besides its big-box hardware phenomenon Bunnings.

Wesfarmers' private equity partners couldn't get their figures to add up and bailed out on the deal, leaving then-chief executive Richard Goyder and his board to roll the dice and fund the deal themselves. But Coles has been turned around, Kmart has continued to prosper, Officeworks is solid and Target? Well, Target continues to bleed shareholder funds to this day. Wesfarmers' new boss Rob Scott believes it has been worth it and he will deliver a mature and cash generative business, which is expected to have a strong balance sheet and dividend paying capacity onto the ASX.

Add in the cash Wesfarmers had to pour into the businesses and the deal appears to be something of a break-even proposition. The capital gain hasn't been great as the share price is now only marginally above where it was when the big deal was done. While Wesfarmers says it will maintain an up to 20 per cent stake in Coles for strategic reasons, it clearly doesn't think there is an overly bright future in supermarkets and things are not going to get better any time soon.

Woolworths has regained its mojo and has sprinted by Coles in terms of like-for like sales growth. While suggesting the market may have undervalued Coles, Credit Suisse's retail team suggest all the "low-hanging fruit" has been picked in terms of productivity gains and cost cutting. Woolworths has already spent a lot on improving the efficiency of its supermarkets' "last 50 metres" supply-chain, although they have have yet to gain much traction. Wesfarmers hasn't done the same thing at Coles, according to Credit Suisse, and has been caught off-guard by developments.

At the same time, Woolworths is free from the debilitating distractions of the Masters hardware debacle just as Wesfarmers has its own home renovation financial black-hole opening up in the Bunnings UK and Ireland BUKI business. Wesfarmers is marketing the demerger as a "win-win" — a great opportunity for its investor base to be part of a vibrant new, yet somehow mature, top company, while Wesfarmers itself can look at "growing" the remaining businesses and buy some new ones with the soon-to-be flush balance sheet.

Escala Partners chief investment officer and one-time retail analyst Giselle Roux isn't buying the deal. Why pay 18 times for a supermarket business growing at GDP plus a bit of population growth, say 5 per cent? If they put in Bunnings, or bundled up all the retail maybe, although it have been left with a load of rubbish.

Well assuming it is approved by shareholders, Wesfarmers can get back to its early days of being a trader; buying and selling assets. Wesfarmers chairman Michael Chaney certainly hopes so, saying the demerger would extend the group's "long history of actively managing its portfolio". Recent investment decisions, such as expanding the Bunnings model to the UK, haven't been too successful with BUKI now being written down by far more than Wesfarmers has invested in it.

So all cashed up, but what to do now? Perhaps invest in a book by one of the world's most successful, and certainly most pithy investor, Warren Buffett. Never forget rule No. First posted March 16, If you have inside knowledge of a topic in the news, contact the ABC. ABC teams share the story behind the story and insights into the making of digital, TV and radio content.

Read about our editorial guiding principles and the enforceable standard our journalists follow. While no-one expects someone to front Malcolm Turnbull over his 30th Newspoll loss today, the signs of leadership tension are already apparent, writes Louise Yaxley. On March 1, Bob, Mick and Tom French made history and were even featured in an advertising campaign.

Commonwealth Games mascot Borobi is capturing attention and hearts the world over and one man has been riding the wave of Games love with him. Breaking news An airfield in the Syrian city of Homs has been targeted with missiles, state television is reporting. By business reporter Stephen Letts. Wesfarmers year tussle with Woolworths for supermarket and liquor sales domination looks a set to end with the Coles business to be spun-out later this year.

Coles is being spun off for what could be a billion less than it was bought for. Can Wesfarmers dig Bunnings out of its UK hole, or is better just to bury it? Woolworths widens the gap on Coles as 'down, down' looks down and out. Wesfarmers share price has been flat-lining for several years after rebounding out of the GFC Source: Coles started losing growth momentum in , while Woolworths accelerated around the same time.

Credit Suisse, company data. Wesfarmers vs Woolworths share price. We want to hear about your experiences with aged care in Australia. Top Stories Missiles hit airfield in Syria's Homs, state media reports The naked portrait that changed a former commando's life 'Mongrel bunch of bastards': The high cost of taking on the Tax Office NAPLAN's writing test is 'bizarre' but here's how kids can get top marks Turnbull 'regrets' 30 Newspolls comment made when he rolled Abbott Prestigious restaurant underpaid workers hundreds of dollars a week: Mortgage rates could rise on back of high global rates Onlookers shocked as man stands on moving train before jumping off bridge into river Linc Energy guilty of serious environmental harm at gas plant Good Samaritan 'assaulted', left in water after rescuing man in Balmain harbour The Breakfast Club is 'troubling' in the metoo age, Molly Ringwald says SPORT Ferrari mechanic suffers broken leg when hit by Kimi Raikkonen in pits When's the right time to get the flu jab?

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Connect with ABC News. Got a news tip? Editorial Policies Read about our editorial guiding principles and the enforceable standard our journalists follow. Turnbull's Newspoll loss While no-one expects someone to front Malcolm Turnbull over his 30th Newspoll loss today, the signs of leadership tension are already apparent, writes Louise Yaxley.

Where are Canberra's first triplets now? Borobi's 'hype man' By Damien Larkins Commonwealth Games mascot Borobi is capturing attention and hearts the world over and one man has been riding the wave of Games love with him.

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Gravity hurts, as illustrated by Malcolm Turnbull's meteoric fall to Earth. Media Video Audio Photos. Change to mobile view.