British Prime Minister Theresa May said in a special address at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting that the United Kingdom would continue to be a champion of global trade after it left the European Union. She stressed that the UK would seek to bring new partners to the table and develop new bilateral deals with countries across the world.
May told participants that she has previously argued that the benefits of free trade are not being felt by all, which threatens to undermine popular support for the rules-based system on which global security and prosperity depends. “But I also argued that we could change this. Not by turning our backs on free trade or the global rules-based system – which together have delivered the greatest advances in prosperity we have ever known. But rather by doubling down on them and acting to ensure that the global economy works for everyone. The test of leadership is what actions we take.”
She went on to say that countries must pull in the same direction to ensure the global economy does not leave anyone behind.
May also called on the World Trade Organization (WTO) to move faster on reforms so its rulebook keeps pace with developments in the global economy. She said that while services make up 64% of global GDP, the Trade in Services Agreement remains stalled. While the likes of eBay, Amazon and Alibaba have grown into global giants, the WTO has been struggling to remove barriers to e-commerce trade for almost 20 years.
“Progress on these issues really matters,” she said. “Because technological advances continue to revolutionize the possibilities for humanity, we must have the international frameworks in place to ensure that everyone can benefit from them.”
May outlined her aim to position the UK as a world leader in artificial intelligence (AI) and urged British firms to take advantage of this by setting up more operations in this sector. “We’ve only seen the beginning of what AI can achieve.” She also said the UK is seeking to become a leader in innovation-friendly regulation and one of the safest places in the world to be online.
But she cautioned that technology comes with great responsibility. “Harnessing the power of technology is not just in all our interests but fundamental to the advance of humanity. But it raises new and profound challenges we need to address.”
May called on technology businesses to do more to deal with harmful and damaging content on their platforms. “Companies cannot stand by while their platforms are used to facilitate child abuse, slavery, or the spreading of extremist and terrorist content.” These companies have some of the brightest and best brains in the world, she added, and they must focus these talents on “meeting these fundamental social responsibilities”.
She called for a cross-industry response, saying smaller platforms can quickly become home to terrorists and other groups, and the law needs to keep up with changes in technology.
May concluded by saying that it is important to remember that the risks and challenges faced by the modern world do not outweigh the opportunities. “We must not miss out on the prize of tomorrow.”
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