Globalisation is in real danger of going into reverse
A view from Gideon Spanier

Globalisation is in real danger of going into reverse

Most media and advertising people instinctively believe the benefits of globalisation outweigh the negatives.

We want our world to be open and global, rather than insular and isolationist.

That’s because, by its nature, the best communication flows across borders. Think of Facebook, Uber or the iPhone. These are services and products that have been adopted in dozens of countries at speeds never seen before in human history.

Some economists talk about "soft globalisation" to describe this move towards shared cultural and social behaviour. And as Mary Meeker, star analyst at US venture-capital company KPCB, pointed out in her annual Internet Trends report last week, technology is accelerating change. More people in India now have a smartphone than in the US, she says.

Yet we are also living in a time when people are questioning the limits of globalisation and considering whether to erect new trade barriers and borders.

That’s ultimately what Britons must decide when we vote on whether to leave or remain in the European Union on 23 June. It will also be at the heart of November’s US presidential election, when Americans could elect Donald Trump with his "build-a-wall" approach to trade and migration.

It’s not just an Anglo-American issue. Ask business leaders with an international perspective such as Jerry Buhlmann, who runs Dentsu Aegis Network, and they fret about how globalisation is facing friction all over the world map.

They see global trade decreasing and local and regional trade increasing, with no sign of a global solution to these global challenges.

The US and China are each looking after their own interests, Russia is flexing its muscles (prompting trade sanctions by the West) and Saudia Arabia has been artificially depressing the oil price (resulting in last year’s global commodities slump).

And then there are the doubts about European integration because of migration and terror attacks. Brexit would almost certainly lead to other countries voting on whether to quit the EU.

It all suggests that "hard globalisation" – international trade facilitated by nations, as opposed to soft globalisation, fuelled by technology and cultural behaviour – is in danger of going into reverse.

Until recently, soft globalisation has looked inexorable. It is why the Cannes Lions attracts an increasingly international crowd. But if voters and governments opt for narrow, national interests, then it will be impossible to ignore this growing tension between soft and hard globalisation.