Fresh off its second annual event, the World Trade Day celebration in Atlanta is already starting to look toward a third year as the catalyst for a city-wide conversation about trade.
Hosted by the World Trade Center Atlanta, the event saw success this year at a new venue, hosting 25 percent more attendees (up to 225 this year) and sponsors than its inaugural event.
“We think we’ll get that 300 mark next year,” said Diane Alleva Caceres, CEO of Market Access International and chair of the event.
Themed around innovation and technology, this year’s event aimed to bridge high-level theoretical discussion about trade issues with practical sessions that could help local companies learn the nuts-and-bolts of global business.
Uncertainty on both fronts has been rampant in recent months, as the Trump administration has used talk of tariffs and quotas as leverage in ongoing negotiations.
Dr. Caceres said World Trade Day, recognized by a proclamation from Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, is a positive voice in support of trade amid a tense time.
“We are proud of World Trade Day’s success in galvanizing the community around the merits of global trade and investment,” she said.
The balance of pragmatism and theory was on display during the first set of breakout sessions, in which attendees could pick from among sessions on taking their business global, funding their global expansion or a broader discussion on the international climate.
Moderated by former Atlanta Federal Reserve President Dennis Lockhart, the latter discussion featured experts focused on a range of topics, from NAFTA’s current outlook and Chinese tariff disputes to Canada-U.S. trade issues and European currency issues.
On NAFTA, Canadian Consul General Nadia Theodore warned attendees not to read too much into arbitrary timetables for concluding negotiations.
“We will conclude an agreement when there is an agreement on the table that is worth concluding,” Ms. Theodore said as part of a wide-ranging discussion on Canada’s trade positions during which she also asserted her country’s strong desire to see the U.S. — and by extension the entire NAFTA bloc — succeed.
Penelope Prime, a Georgia State University business professor and an economist focused on China, said the threatened $150 billion in tariffs might not be the best way to deal with China’s ambitions to become a “knowledge economy.”
“The issues between the U.S. and China run deep because they’re not fundamentally trade issues; they’re fundamentally investment issues,” Dr. Prime said, noting that multilateral institutions will pose a better challenge to China than unilateral U.S. action.
Breakout sessions in the afternoon dealt more with themes under the umbrella of innovation: medical technology, advanced manufacturing and artificial intelligence. In the morning session, IBM Watson and IBM Cloud CTO Bryson Koehler gave an exposition of how the company leverages its own data networks, visual categorization, natural language, speech recognition and other AI advances to do anything from improving weather forecasts to enhancing public safety.
Dr. Caceres said that while technology cross-cuts sectors and could be an annual theme, the World Trade Day organizing team will weigh feedback from attendees in crafting next year’s event.
“We definitely want to be current, because part of convening everyone once a year like this is to be able to talk about current trends,” she said, but another key aspect is stepping back to take a look at broader “megatrends” guiding global interactions over time.
Overall, eight panel discussions featured representatives of the Brookings Institution, IBM Watson Health, Accenture, Emory University, Georgia Tech, Georgia State, Alcon, Toto USA, AGCO, Dornier MedTech GmbH, Georgia Centers of Innovation and Tempus FX, among many others.
While forward-looking, the event also honored the past: Portman Holdings Vice Chair John C. (Jack) Portman III honored former Atlanta Mayor and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young with an award named after his late father just before the afternoon plenary. Mr. Young was the inaugural recipient of the John C. Portman Leadership Award.
The ensuing discussion on the city’s future as a global hub was well-received by attendees who were happy to have access to two pillars of the city’s international advancement.
Learn more at www.worldtradeday.com.