21 Nov 2016 19:53 IST

Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri sees threat to free trade with rise of nationalism

HS Ballal (second from left), Pro Chancellor of Manipal University, confers the honorary doctorate to Rajeev Suri (second from right), President and CEO of Nokia, at the 23rd convocation of Manipal University in Manipal. Anil Dattatreya Sahasrabudhe Chairman, AICTE, is on the left.   -  THE HINDU

He tells students to be aware of protectionism and anti-globalisation wave

When a young student graduated in electronics and communications from Manipal Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1989, the world order had begun to change with the collapse of walls between nations.

When that old student returned to Manipal in 2016, as head of a technology company, globalisation had grown rapidly and the new world order was different altogether.

Rajeev Suri, President and Chief Executive Officer of Nokia, highlighted some points related to the changing world order in his address to the students of Manipal University on the second day of the convocationon Sunday evening.

In 1989, the year he graduated, the walls were coming down in the world order. “The Soviet Union was crumbling, and shortly after I left Manipal, the Berlin Wall collapsed and the Cold War was effectively over. In its place, globalisation started to take hold, and between then and today, its pace grew and grew,” Suri said.

Opportunities to see, to understand, to accept, accelerated at an extraordinary rate. Air travel more than quadrupled. Passports went from being a rarity for few to a necessity for many.

All this movement was supported by a new kind of linkage between people — by mobile phones, with Nokia at the forefront.

New linkages

Stating that global trade was on a meteoric rise, Suri said trade volumes shot up at around twice the rate of the global gross domestic product between 1985 and 2007. Institutions were strengthened to support that trade, and new multilateral agreements were put in place.

Read Suri reminisces about his life at Manipal

“Overall, since my graduation, the world has seen a period of peace and prosperity. Not a perfect time, of course, as too much poverty and too much conflict still wracks our world. But, relative to earlier eras, these have been good years. No doubt about it,” he said.

Changing times

Addressing the students, he said: “Today, as you prepare to leave Manipal, the story is different. In fact, there is a high risk that walls will start to go back up. Many countries are beginning to look in, not out. Nationalism is on the rise. Growth in trade has stalled.

“Surprising things are happening everywhere. The United Kingdom decided to exit the European Union. Donald Trump, now the President-elect of the United States, has questioned some of the foundations of global trade and established alliances.

“There is a risk that France could swing to the nationalist right in its upcoming elections, and that Germany could follow suit in the post-Merkel era, partly in reaction to the ongoing immigration crisis,” he said.

Big trade deals that have been painstakingly negotiated are collapsing, and public opinion in many countries has now turned solidly not just against globalisation, but even the broader concept of free trade.

Stating that these are worrying times, he, however, said the future is not predetermined.

“Yes, the risk is real, but we can still change the path we are on. And I believe we can and will do that,” Suri said, adding that technology and the present young generation will help do that.


On technology, he said the world will become more connected in the coming years, and the connections will be counted in the tens of billions.

Most of these new connections will come from devices, machines, sensors, and so on. And, while the number of connections is important, what matters most is not the separate parts, but what those parts can create when working together in harmony with intelligence to create something more, something better and something truly revolutionary with extraordinary human potential, he said.

On the present young generation, Suri said: “You give me confidence because you and your generation are different, and that is doubly true for those with the benefit of the terrific education you have received. You are more informed, more connected, more worldly in both your outlook and your experience, more open to change, more tolerant, and more accepting of those who are different.”