Adidas is one of the most important sports apparel companies in the world. This year, it announced that it will start manufacturing shoes in Germany again, where its headquarters is. Its six major subcontractors in China have many reasons to be concerned about this: their competitiveness will no longer be guaranteed by their low labor costs. This is because Adidas’s new workers, who are robots, will have a fixed salary of zero.
If these new manufacturing methods become widespread, global trade will experience an amazing transformation that will affect companies’ relocation decisions, exports, and logistics costs.
During the INTAL Colloquium: Glocal Future (link in Spanish), experts analyzed the impact of new technologies on manufacturing, trade, and Latin American integration.
Rafael Salazar, part of the MIT Technology Review, presented the technologies that could have the greatest impact on our lives in the coming years and gave a preview of their consequences on trade and integration.
According to Salazar, the world has changed through exponential events, meaning that change cycles are happening faster and on ever shorter time spans. Each year, the MIT Technology Review profiles the most disruptive technologies. In 2016, the publication highlighted the fact that the deepest changes originate in the smallest things: bits, atoms, and cells. It also argued that the main revolutions will be in strategic trade areas: energy, transport, and genetics.
Robots can do much more than make shoes, and their potential use extends far beyond mass production manufacturing. There are even robots that can teach each other or drive cars by themselves, like those already being sold by Tesla.
In the area of energy, these new technologies are creating devices that obtain the energy they need to operate from electromagnetic waves. Others are bringing down the cost of highly efficient solar panels, as is the case in Solarcity’s Gigafactory.
In the field of genetics, breakthrough technologies allow us to edit the genetic codes of plants. These unique codes can then be shared through a kind of online shop, and that information can be used for biological and medical research and food production.
What is the real impact of these new technologies on trade and integration?
This will undoubtedly become one of the central issues in trade negotiations and the planning of long-term investments. For example, how far can jobs be digitized at the expense of the level of employment?
Six of the most disruptive technologies and their impact on trade and integration
It is clear that trade strategies will have to be adjusted to these new realities. This could be the case for oil-producing countries, which will have to find intelligent ways of facing the changes in the global energy matrix. International transport regulations will also have to be coordinated, for example, to take autonomous trucks and ships into account.
In line with these ideas, Chilean politician and expert on future scenarios Sergio Bitar also spoke at the Glocal Future Colloquium. Mr. Bitar heads the Inter-American Dialogue database on prospective analysis and global trends, which relies on the IDB’s support. Also present at the colloquium was the US Ambassador to Argentina, Noah Mamet; Argentina’s Chief of Staff, Marcos Peña, and Minister of Production, Francisco Cabrera; and many other experts on innovation and development.
During the debate, the specialists highlighted a new trend in innovations: technological developments no longer originate only in the academic sphere. The private sector, looking to meet specific needs, has also found groundbreaking ways of solving problems while transforming production patterns. These exponential changes will demand dynamic and innovative trade policies.
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