The World Investment Forum celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2018 at the recent meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, October 22-26. The UNCTAD World Investment Forum “is the pre-eminent global platform for investment and development.” Since its inception in 2008, the Forum has served as the leading global platform for engagement and dialogue on emerging and key issues related to investing for sustainable development.

A biennial meeting, this dialogue on sustainable development has taken the World Investment Forum around the globe in the last ten years, including to Accra 2008, Xiamen 2010, Doha 2012, Geneva 2014, Nairobi 2016, and Geneva 2018. Plus, in September 2015, all member states of the United Nations ratified the Sustainable Development Goals (as an extension/revision of the Millennium Goals 2000). The ratification of the SDGs and the strategic discussions at the WIF are vital to international trade, global production, and a well-functioning world.

Given this importance of the UNCTAD WIF and, importantly, the strategic position of the Academy of International Business as the platform for academic thought-leadership in international business, AIB and UNCTAD/WIF formally engaged in a strategic partnership in 2018. AIB members have been participating in the World Investment Forum since its inception, but leveraging the AIB – UNCTAD link more formally and publicly has strategic merits.

Consequently, AIB and UNCTAD along with the Society of International Economic Law (SIEL) entered into a strategic alliance – as a part of the UNCTAD Academic Network on Investment – to convene scholars from international business, economics, law and other relevant fields for a day-long multi-disciplinary academic conference at the most recent WIF 2018. The discussions explored emerging trends for future research in investment and the multinational enterprise.

The WIF 2018 conference event will also produce a “Future Investment Research Agenda” and identify a list of opportunities for collaboration between researchers and UNCTAD’s Investment and Enterprise Division. The plan is that this strategic alliance (and potentially more partners) will organize future academic conferences in conjunction with the UNCTAD World Investment Forum in 2020 and beyond.

The fit between AIB, UNCTAD, and the SIEL is superb since the WIF biannually gathers more than 4,000 investment stakeholders from 160 countries. The participants are high-level members from the global investment community, including heads of state and government, ministers, executives of global companies, sovereign wealth fund managers, international investment location experts, heads of international organizations, parliamentarians, eminent scholars, international media, and lots more interested parties. Within this platform, AIB, UNCTAD, and the SIEL are “uniquely positioned at the intersection of the public, private and multi-lateral sectors to shape 21st century investment policies,” a stated focus of the World Investment Forum.

James Zhan, UNCTAD Director of Investment and Enterprise, opened the academic conference within the WIF 2018 and Richard Bolwijn, UNCTAD Director of Investment Research, served as master of ceremonies. I provided the foundational keynote in the opening session on “explaining today’s global investment and international production trends.” Lorraine Eden, immediate past AIB President, served as the keynote in the second session on “global value chains, the digital economy, and the new industrial revolution.”

Some of the highlights from my keynote include that the value of world trade has grown consistently faster than the growth rate in the world economy since 1960, and it has been much higher since the turn of the century. What accounts for this trade growth is the combined trade of raw materials, work-in-process (e.g., component parts) and finished products. By 2020, we expect the value of world trade to be about 167 times larger than it was in 1960, whereas the world economy will be only 65 times larger.

In short, we can say that the globe has become structured as a dynamic, ever-evolving and increasingly efficient complex web of supply chains that support comparative advantage-based production globally. The troubling part is that for the first time in seven years, we expect this global efficiency ratio to go below 2.60 in 2018, and then become lower in 2019 and 2020. Basically, the world has created global efficiencies over decades that are now being politically challenged from its half-century of global win-win evolution to a more nationalistic country-win scenario. But, perhaps the end-result can ultimately be the same if a fair trade agreement can be struck for the countries involved.

These international trade and global production topics are obviously important issues related to investing for sustainable development. Sarianna Lundan, Editor of the AIB’s Journal of International Business Policy, represented our association well by participating in the opening session and a meet-the-editor session. The latter session also included Richard Bolwijn and Heinz Tuselman representing UNCTAD’s journal, Transnational Corporations. AIB was also represented marvelously by former AIB Executive Board Members Maria Alejandra Gonzalez-Perez as a panelist in the opening session, and Peter Buckley as the “strategic synthesizer” of the daylong discussions in the concluding session setting the research agenda on investment for development.

We invite to the AIB community to stay tuned and look for opportunities to be part of the dialogue at the next UNCTAD World Investment Forum in 2020. The idea is to make the AIB-supported multi-disciplinary academic conference open to any AIB member and any interested academics via competitive submissions, high-profile panels, and a multi-disciplinary audience.

Want to hear more insights from AIB Executive Director Tomas Hult? Check out his posts on the globalEDGE blog at bit.ly/hultblog or listen online to his globalEDGE Business Beat radio show at bit.ly/gebizbeat.