EAST MEETS WEST on the road to dialogue and exchange

Throughout human history, peoples and nations have exchanged cultural experiences, knowledge, know-how, goods and products through great migratory movements, art and commerce.
Since humans have been around, the migration of peoples and intercultural exchanges have played a primordial role on the evolution of our history.
The rebirth of the Silk Road in 1988, under a UNESCO ten-year project entitled « Integral Study of the Silk Roads: Roads of Dialogue » (1988-1997), was a very attractive initiative — bold and ambitious.
This project, which incorporated a multidisciplinary approach, had as its objective the drawing up of a balance sheet of scientific, technological and cultural exchanges that had taken place between East and West through the various routes of communication.
This was, according to Federico Mayor, the then Director General of UNESCO, « set to reopen doors to the past, thus shedding new light on the present. »
At its origins, the Silk Road was developed in Central Asia at the periphery of the Empires of Persia, China and India, where vast deserts lie side-by-side with the world’s highest summits.
It is perhaps in this marvellous setting that East met West for the first time, where the cultures of Assyria, Babylonia, Greece, Persia, India and China discovered each other in open trade along the Silk Road (circa 330BC), making this region the crossroads of Asia — and history.
However, this reality matured into its true potential only with the passing of time and due to man’s needs and questionings. It has to be noted that the Silk Road really developed with man’s drive for individual entrepreneurship and security in the next two hundred years, along Persia’s north-eastern and China’s western peripheries, pushing physical boundaries through sheer dynamism and mental fortitude.
The first concerted efforts leading to the establishment of the Silk Road are credited to the Chinese Han emperors in search of peace on their western borders, beyond the peripheries of the Great Wall, conducting many campaigns to secure the trade route with Central Asia, Persia and Rome in the west.
Later, during the reign of the Parthian dynasty in north-eastern Iran, in the first century AD, the grand religions of the East and the West existed side by side along the Silk Road, permitting the establishment of diplomatic contacts, economic relations and exchanges between various cultures.
The long history of these cultural and commercial exchanges has always been one of excitement and passion. From these early times until the present day, men have been on the move to trade with their neighbours near and far. And so throughout the ages these various lines of communication across the vast Eurasian continent have been connected bit by bit to form what has come to be called the Silk Road.
However, it would be a myth to say that the Silk Road — a name coined as recently as the nineteenth century — was a single road! In fact, let us not forget that besides the development of maritime routes, or Spice Roads, there were numerous roads that criss-crossed Eurasia through oases and passes linking East and West. These networks were not just means of transporting physical goods but were, more importantly and effectively, an archaic form of Information Super Highway, where global ideas were exchanged from community to community, from continent to continent and « from sea to shining sea ».
Fortunately for us, these exchanges have never stopped, even if they have slowed down in various epochs. Even at present, economic collaboration appears the best guarantor asserting peace in the world.
The coming into force in January 1948 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) — a multilateral agreement of free exchange — proposed to harmonize the customs policies of state signatories and so to favour the development of international trade.
This international understanding achieved a certain degree of success. Eight cycles of negotiations, from 1947 to the end of 1994, allowed some 120 countries to join the « club », to sit down around the same table and to become signatories of a certain number of agreements concerning non-tariff measures, agriculture, services or in the domain of intellectual property.
But GATT’s system remained purely political. Moreover, the end of the Uruguay Round, the longest and most discussed cycle of negotiations ending in 1994, and further down the road the meeting at Marrakech (Morocco, April, 1994), led to the setting up of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva on the 1 January 1995 to succeed GATT.
Consequently, the WTO, which represents a system created almost half a century ago, has regrouped some 153 Member States. It applies itself to liberalizing international trade and in spite of the actual failure of the Doha Round — which aimed principally at ameliorating access for developing countries to the markets of developed countries — it continues to provide a multilateral forum in which trade agreements are negotiated.
But alas, it is never easy to regulate all the world’s problems. Today, at a time when civil and military conflicts seem on the increase, it is more than ever necessary to listen to others.
In this epoch of global issues, the notions of trade, socio-economic development, peace and security are not only interdependent, but increase mutually.
Similarly today, as in the past, the coming together of East and West must allow, beyond the frontiers of the Silk Road, a permanent dialogue between Oriental and Western traditions in realms of cultural and commercial interests for the good of all.
Orient-Expo, which will be held at the Palexpo, Geneva, from 12 to 21 November 2010, has the ambition of uniting the countries of Asia, Europe and Africa in order to multiply dialogue and exchange, while offering services and new opportunities to potential investors and society in the context of total development.