In The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman points out that international trade has been an important part of society since 1492, the year that Columbus discovered the Americas – which catalyzed a new burgeoning trade between the Old World and New World. According to Friedman, nations were the key players in this era of globalization.1
In 1602, one of the world’s first (and most successful) joint-stock companies was founded. The Dutch East India Company pursued trade with Asia, a level of trade that completely eclipsed Europe’s international trade with Asia at this time. Other companies were to follow. Multinational companies were to become the major players in globalization, aided by factors such as improved transportation (steam powered ships and railroads) and, later, improved telecommunications (inventions such as the telegraph and the telephone).
These multinational companies spread worldwide, looking for new supply chains, new sources of labour, and new markets to sell their goods. Today, this is truer than ever before. And today, even more barriers are coming down. Countries are shrugging off protectionist policies in favour of opening up free trade. World economies are integrating, and it is hard to look at any corner of the world and not see regional efforts at forming trade blocs, customs unions, common markets, and economic and monetary unions. Common trade policies and free trade of goods within regions is allowing groups of nations to join together to create an environment of competition, with the goal of increasing competitive advantage, and economic development.
Over the last several decades, the pace of globalization has increased rapidly. New forces of globalization include the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the creation of a single European Union, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO). According to Friedman the Internet, email, networks, teleconferencing, and dynamic new software are huge factors in this new era of globalization – an era where individuals (not just countries and multinational corporations) will play a much more important role: “by connecting all the knowledge centers on the planet together into a single global network, which – if politics and terrorism do not get in the way – [we] could usher in an amazing era of prosperity and innovation."¹
1.Friedman, T. L. (2005). The World is Flat. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. New York. 8-11.