The world’s greatest economies have been built on international trade and investment. From the Greek and Roman Empires of ancient times to the Ottoman Empire and British Empire, global commerce has created huge wealth and unparalleled economic advantage. Meanwhile, every century or so, technological development and political decision-making have combined to catalyse significant shifts in the global balance of power. In the UK, this included the advent of steam power, mechanisation of manufacturing and adoption of steel-hulled ships for transport during Britain’s industrial revolution. Scientific and industrial innovation thus enabled the creation of the largest, richest and most powerful empire of all time.
Much of that technology and experience was exported to the United States, enabling the construction of the railroads and creation of the United States of America, creating the military, financial and technology powerhouse of the 20th century. The same is true for the world’s greatest commercial enterprises. The world’s first companies – the Dutch and British East India companies – were formed around 1600 to pursue international trade. At their peak, they both owned merchant navies with massively more ships than any country has today. Today, the five largest listed companies in the US are Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, three of which are barely twenty years old. Importantly, all have built their success on innovative new technologies, and all five have businesses that are global in nature. Importantly, these five companies alone have accounted for a material part of overall stock-market growth in the US since 2000. Collectively, they have a market value of $3.5 trillion, more than the entire capitalisation of Australia’s Stock Exchange.
So, it was with great interest that I attended the Belt & Road Trade and Investment Forum in Beijing last week. Read on...