In his introductory remarks to the second panel, Christian Verschueren, Director General of EuroCommerce, defended trade as a key tool to improve citizens' lives and welfare in our societies. In this sense, the EU's Single Market needs to be protected against increasing trade barriers that retail and wholesale companies are suffering across Europe.
Karl Brauner (Deputy Director General at the World Trade Organisation), Olaf Koch (CEO of METRO AG) and Cora Jungbluth (Senior Expert International Trade and Investment at the Bertelsmann Foundation) were the speakers of the second panel of the evening, moderated this time by the communications specialist Katrina Sichel.
In his initial statement, Karl Brauner praised METRO for enabling trade in many regions of the world by providing a platform for local businesses. Besides, he emphasised in a provocative manner that the WTO was not a free trade organisation, quite the opposite: WTO is an organisation established to set clear rules, frameworks and standards for world trade. Therefore, the current disputes between WTO's members are a clear reflection of what is happening in the world at the moment. In this regard, Cora Jungbluth stressed the manifold dangers that protectionism poses and reminded the audience that such policies have only short-term advantages, but lead in the end to welfare losses.
"Protection is about empowerment"
Olaf Koch, CEO of METRO AG, drew attention to the need for companies to be able to compete in global markets in order to be successful in the long term. For Mr Koch, protection means empowerment. Indeed, we do not want to live in a world where everything is standardised, but in diverse societies, where citizens have freedom of choice. For that, we must empower small independent businesses that need support to compete against bigger global players.
The discussion with the audience focused the implication of free trade for SMEs, the current WTO reforms and the active role of citizens in the defence of open societies.
Maria Heider, Director of EU Affairs at METRO AG, closed an evening full of lively discussions and invited the guests to continue the debate over the dinner reception that followed.