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The uncertain future of the global trading system
In December, the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization (WTO) will have only one of its seven members left, as the Trump administration is blocking new appointments. The U.S. criticizes the Body, which governs trade disputes brought on by WTO members, for being incapable of holding countries (e.g. China) accountable for trade abuses. Having a legal enforcement mechanism, however, reduces uncertainty demonstrably and lowers global transaction costs. Since the foundation of the WTO in 1995, global trade has grown rapidly. Chinese exports, for instance, have benefitted greatly from the country’s WTO membership. Although ‘paralyzing’ the WTO will strengthen the position of large countries (such as the U.S., China) via-a-vis smaller ones in the medium-term, a rules-based order to govern global trade is preferable as it will benefit the U.S. as well, since it gives them the best way to deal with China’s rise in the global economy. Although uncertainty in the global trading system may increase in the short-term, we can expect proposals for reforming the WTO or for the foundation of entirely new institutional structures to manage global trade.
The sun delivers more energy to Earth in an hour than the entire world consumes in a year. Solar energy is thus a promising source of clean, renewable, noise-free energy. Two downsides have kept solar energy from breaking through: solar energy technology is costly to implement and it requires storage. Over the past decade, however, prices have fallen rapidly and gains in efficiency have driven solar energy production to increase 13 fold. In the long term, the downward trend of solar energy production costs will overtake any change in fossil fuel costs, which will drive large-scale adoption. Looking at the bigger picture of the global energy transition, the main challenge remains to balance demand and supply of renewable energy. While distributed energy solutions remain scarce, the decentralized energy storage market is growing. In the future, we might reach solar democracy. Instead of a centralized energy system primarily owned by big utilities, energy democracy envisions distributed energy generation and ownership. Initiatives coming from bottom-up and from solar designers are working to make this a reality.
The rise of digitized window shopping
Google introduced image search as early as 2011 but it was not until 2017, when Pinterest Lens launched, that visual search picked up pace. Powered by Artificial Intelligence, visual image processing search technologies are slowly becoming a pivotal part of modern shopping habits. Especially Gen Z and millennials want visual search to be part of their mobile shopping experience. Major retailers are catching on to this promising trend and using the technology to empower their customers with intuitive visual navigation. Last year, Snapchat teamed with Amazon to offer in-app image-based shopping, allowing its users to point the app’s camera at an item and quickly find the product (or similar products) on Amazon. Target added Pinterest’s visual search tool to its app and website, while Asos launched its own ‘Style Match’ tool. Zion Market Research expects visual search to grow from $6.7m in 2018 to around $28.5m by 2027. While visual search probably will never fully replace textual search, as the technology continues to advance, visual search could have a disruptive impact on the retail industry.