World trade

At last week’s Workplace Week Convention I was struck by a comment from Mark Wood who opened the event with a great presentation on trends in demographics, economics and society. Wood is a finance expert and he talked from a global, not a UK, perspective about the big forces shaping the future. His “new realities” include scarce energy; income not capital; equity versus debt; creativity not credit and productivity not wealth.

He said: “Asia is a source of high intellect and productivity not cheap labour.”

For some time now western political and business leaders have talked about the need to focus on the knowledge industries. We may not be able to compete in manufacturing but we can still lead in high-tech research, development and design. But for how long?

Mobile telephony has exploded across the world. In some developing countries it has leap-frogged fixed-line technology and in many a smartphone is the preferred device for accessing online services.

Most of the world’s smartphones run on just three platforms: Android from Google, iOS from Apple and Windows from Microsoft. The hardware may be made around the world but the software originates in labs on the west coast of America.

Surely it won’t be long before Asia’s “high intellect” produces innovation born from Asian rather than western culture.

And if research and development migrates East, there’s just a hint that there might be some movement the other way.

Apple’s iPhones and iPads are made by Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn, mostly in China. As Workplace Week ended, an article on the business pages of The Guardian ran under this headline: “Taiwan’s Foxconn weighing up plan to outsource jobs … to America.”

Apparently Foxconn has been looking overseas for opportunities as labour costs rise in China and has “evaluated” US cities including Detroit and Los Angeles.