Economic diplomacy: bilateral relations in a context of geopolitical change by Peter A.G. Bergeijk and Selwyn J.V. Moons

Economic diplomacy, although perceived as marginally important by neoclassical economists, is a highly relevant topic first and foremost because it works in practice, but also because it provides an essential policy answer to the increasing uncertainty of international transactions. In this article, Peter A.G. van Bergeijk and Selwyn J.V. Moons, editors of the recently released Research Handbook on Economic Diplomacy, briefly introduce the topic of economic diplomacy and highlight the value of the new publication, to which several ISS researchers have contributed.


The eminent breakdown of multilateralism and supranationalism due to Trump and Brexit has led to a revival of the debate on economic diplomacy, properly understood as a broad field that comprises those aspects of diplomacy that are aimed at:

  • the opening of markets to stimulate bilateral cross-border economic activities such as imports, exports, mergers and acquisitions and greenfield foreign direct investments;
  • the building and use of bilateral cultural, political and economic relationships between countries in order to assist domestic companies; and
  • the use of bilateral economic relationships, including (the threat) to discontinue these activities, as a tool of diplomacy.

Neoclassically oriented economists in the past have considered this topic of marginal interest only. Their analysis typically heralds the costs of government intervention and the benefits of free international trade and investment flows. Consequently, the economic analysis of positive and negative diplomatic interactions did not feature prominently on their research agenda. But it is increasingly being recognised that economic diplomacy is  a highly relevant topic, especially in Development Studies, (a) because economic diplomacy works (Moons 2017, 2018, Muniz 2018), (b) because it is more important for developing countries and emerging markets (Rhana 2018) and (c) because it provides an essential policy answer to the increasing uncertainty of international transactions (Bergeijk and Moons 2018).

Surprise and confusion

The international economic reality of 2018 is surprising and confusing. Europe struggles with its trans-Atlantic ally, and the UK’s exit and a new Italian government with an anti-EU attitude contribute to this sense of confusion. America is separating itself from its traditional partners (the EU, NAFTA, and the OECD). The trade relationships between the world’s economic #1 and #2 are more strained than ever before. Trust in the multilateral backbone of the world economy evaporates and US hegemonism is weakening. Clearly a new and better understanding of the interactions between governments is necessary because of the changing playing field and dynamics.

Brave new world

Four key stylized facts that apply to this new environment make the Research Handbook on Economic Diplomacy: Bilateral relations in a context of geopolitical change timely and highly relevant:

  1. In the brave new world of Trump and Brexit, trade and investment uncertainty increases significantly with a negative impact on trade and investment;
  2. Trump’s open confrontational approach to foreign policy as a form of negative diplomacy bears costs both in the US and abroad;
  3. Bilateral relationships become more relevant and valuable, especially for developing and emerging economies; and
  4. Bilateral economic diplomacy needs to be carefully designed and properly managed in order to generate optimal impact.

9781784710835Representing a move away from Eurocentric books on the topic, the Research Handbook offers relevant and focused contributions that provide three valuable lessons for current and future policies. First, in addition to the full coverage of positive interactions, our contributors also explicitly consider the impact of negative interaction. Second, the Research Handbook in addition to the analysis of OECD markets provides a comprehensive set of detailed empirical analyses of developing and emerging economies in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The contributions by 31 leading experts from industrial nations, emerging economies and developing countries in five continents provide a unique perspective on both the heterogeneous dynamics of economic diplomacy and the tools to analyse the impact and efficiency of economic diplomats both qualitatively (case studies, interviews) and quantitatively (macro-economic gravity models, micro-economic firm level data, surveys, meta-analysis, cost benefit analysis). Third, the Research Handbook provides detailed discussions of information requirements, data coverage and the impact of (changes in) the level and quality of diplomatic representation. The studies in the Research Handbook thereby reveal how and under which conditions economic diplomacy can be effective, providing clear guidance for evidence-based policy.

Evidence base

What are the major findings and implications of recent research? First, economic diplomacy works and this is true both for positive and negative interaction. One can build on positive interaction to strengthen economic ties and similarly the twitter tsunami of the current US president and his increasing reliance on economic sanctions will carry a significant cost (Rose, 2018). Second, uncertainty itself already reduces international specialisation: the threat of trade disruption and discontinuation of treaties in itself influences perceptions and thereby the behaviour of consumers, firms and governments. Third, a one-size-fits-all approach does not work. Economic diplomacy should be aimed at the niche where its contribution can be most significant: complex products, complex markets and countries with diverging political, cultural and historical background (Moons 2017).

Relevance for developing countries and emerging markets

Bilateral economic diplomacy is important for building a good country image and to promote an emerging market as a reliable trading partner with high quality export products, especially in developing countries. It is a relatively more significant determinant of bilateral exports among African states compared to regional integration (Afesorgbor 2018). New modes of economic diplomacy and (development cooperation) are being developed based on China’s pioneering approach to development (De Haan and Warmerdam 2018). Economic diplomacy, however, is not a panacea as Maharani (2018) clarifies while discussing challenges such as lacking exporter preparedness, substandard logistic infrastructure and budgets that remain below those of neighboring countries.


References:
Afesorgbor, S.K., Economic Diplomacy in Africa: The Impact of Regional Integration versus Bilateral Diplomacy on Bilateral Trade chapter 20 in Research Handbook on Economic Diplomacy: Bilateral Relations in a Context of Geopolitical Change, editors P.A.G. van Bergeijk en S.J.V. Moons, Edward Elgar: Cheltenham, UK
Bergeijk, P.A.G. van en S.J.V Moons (2018) ‘Introduction to the Research Handbook on Economic Diplomacy’, chapter 1 in Research Handbook on Economic Diplomacy: Bilateral Relations in a Context of Geopolitical Change, editors P.A.G. van Bergeijk en S.J.V. Moons, Edward Elgar: Cheltenham, UK
Bergeijk, P.A.G. van, S.J.V. Moons en C. Volpe-Martincus (2018) ‘The future of economic diplomacy research’, chapter 23 in Research Handbook on Economic Diplomacy: Bilateral Relations in a Context of Geopolitical Change, editors P.A.G. van Bergeijk en S.J.V. Moons, Edward Elgar: Cheltenham, UK
Arjan de Haan and Ward Warmerdam China’s foreign aid: towards a new normal? chapter 22 in Research Handbook on Economic Diplomacy: Bilateral Relations in a Context of Geopolitical Change, editors P.A.G. van Bergeijk en S.J.V. Moons, Edward Elgar: Cheltenham, UK
Moons, S.J.V (2017) Heterogenous Effects of Economic Diplomacy: Instruments, Determinants and Developments. PhD thesis ISS.

pag van bergeijkAbout the authors: 

Peter van Bergeijk (www.petervanbergeijk.org) is Professor of International Economics and Macroeconomics at the ISS.

DJ_20170714_0642Selwyn Moons has a PhD in economics from ISS. His research focus is international economics and economic diplomacy. Selwyn is currently working as Partner in the public sector advisory branch of PwC the Netherlands. Previously he worked in the Dutch ministries of Economic Affairs and Foreign Affairs.

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