It’s relevant to consider where the cause of globalisation stands in today’s more febrile environment.
In recent years the globalisation narrative which drove much economic policy and strategy over the past 30 years has become much more nuanced – which is management consulting speak for “not as much of a good thing as we thought it was”.
Economic policy is as faddish as a teenager’s Instagram and the vogue seems now to be towards economic nationalism, protectionism and a rolling back of the multilateral system which has prevailed in one way or another since 1945.
But is change of heart based on reality? Or is it just sentiment and what is really happening to globalisation?
The McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) recently published an important piece of research on globalisation.
In very brief summary, the globalisation of physical supply chains, the trade in physical things, is yesterday’s globalisation. It’s done.
The future growth lies in globalised services, innovation and intangibles.
The US-China trade skirmish and the ‘plan’ for UK’s future post-Brexit both focus on trade in goods.
But globally trade in services is growing 60 per cent faster than trade in goods.
Policymakers are arguing about the past – not the future. Future trade growth will be digital, human and/or intangible.
Trade itself is not global either, it’s regional. Fifty-three per cent of all trade in Asia is with Asia.
That rises to 63pc in Europe and is still a healthy 41pc in NAFTA (and more if you count the trade between states in the US).
As MGI has it, regional trade is growing as companies prioritise proximity to customers and speed to market.
So where does the Mena region sit? Last.
Only 16pc of Mena’s trade is with itself. Now, of course, this number is skewed to some extent by the prevalence of hydrocarbons as a regional export – but even so, the Mena region lags behind the world.
Is this bad? It is to some extent, but it is also a huge opportunity for more nimble and open economies like Bahrain.
Consider this: products are replaceable, services aren’t.
An iPhone is an iPhone or a Hyundai a Hyundai, whoever you are.
A Bahraini teenager and a Korean grandmother can buy an identical phone, but they can’t use the same lawyer to buy a home or the same doctor to treat them.
Bahrain sits at the heart of two unique markets which are poorly served by “global” entities.
There are 420 million Arabic speakers and 1.8 billion Muslims – most in developing nations – who all need innovation, services and intangibles which suit them personally.
If that’s not an opportunity then I don’t know what is.
In order to tap this opportunity, Bahrain needs to accelerate its investment in the infrastructure of the next chapter of globalisation.
It needs to build on its strong regulatory environment, foster innovation through both finance and legislation and enhance its digital and physical connectivity with the world.
But where Bahrain can really excel is by enabling and encouraging Bahrainis of all types to continue to develop their unique local service ethos.
That is the path to an integrated, prosperous and sustainable future in a changing globalised economy.
The author is consulting editor for Euromoney Conferences