A lot has happened over the past 20 years: the ‘dot.com bubble’, followed by what is now termed the ‘Great Recession of 2008/2009’ — the longest and most severe contraction of economic activity since the Great Depression — and now Covid.
Not only are we living in difficult times, but the old US–European friendship is crumbling. Trumpian bullying and tariff threats have caused likely irreparable damage to the transatlantic relationship.
Then there is technology. Who in the 1990s could have envisioned the reach of online retailers like Amazon, Alibaba and Rakuten?
Today we are standing at a similar juncture in manufacturing, with industrial Internet of Things, robotics and AI in areas such as predictive maintenance and quality control. These are all merely first glimpses of what is bound to be a revolution in manufacturing, with far-reaching consequences for the future of work and trade flows.
So, rather than seeking to predict what is to come over the next 20 years, we should consciously decide where we want to go. Will Biden succeed in repairing old ties? Maybe. But ultimately, does it even matter?
The US debt:gross domestic product ratio has risen from 55% in 2001 to 106% in 2019, while Asians achieve astounding saving rates. While the US is threatening Europe with tariffs, China and the ASEAN states are building a vast free trade zone.
While senators Cruz, Cotton and Johnson threaten the German port of Sassnitz’s board members and employees with “crushing legal and economic sanctions”, China is building a ‘new Silk Road’ to Europe.
We urgently need to figure out several key questions. Do we want to welcome Chinese investments and where do we draw the line if reciprocal freedoms are not granted to European firms?
Do we want to ‘do business’ with Asian nations or proselytise them and insist on our moral values? Where do we stand on the trade-off between ‘big data’ and data protection? Are we Europeans even truly digitally sovereign?
With Donald Trump questioning Nato, and threatening to withdraw US-troops from Japan and South Korea unless they pay more for “their protection”, Europeans and Asians alike are starting to realise that they will have to fend for themselves. If we do, we will be freer to decide our own paths. And the argument certainly could be made that there is more of an Eurasian future than a transatlantic one.
Martin Kaspar is head of business development at a German mittelstand company in the automotive industry.
This article first appeared in the December/January print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.