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Friday, 5 August 2011

Will collaborative consumption affect international trade?

The Guardian Weekly for 8 July 2011 ran an article entitled Must-have addiction has to end by Leo Hickman in which he cites a book by Rachel Botsman called What's mine is yours: How collaborative consumption is changing the way we live.

She says that social networking has enhanced the notion and practice of collaborative consumption which 'aims to exploit previously ignored or unnoticed value in all our assets by both eliminating waste and generating demand for goods ans service that are otherwise lying idle.'

The development of e-bay, and Trade Me in New Zealand has successfully enabled people to sell off unwanted goods easily and with the added pleasure of making a few dollars.   Movements such as Freecycle in New Zealand allow sharing of idle goods in a targeted way.  This selling or sharing of unwanted goods has been around a long time but the internet has meant that you are not touring Saturday car boot or garage sales on the off-chance you might pick up something useful.

Does it mean that we will consume less and therefore demand for garments from China or shoes from India will fall to the detriment of our trade?   Will shared vehicles or belonging to a car club mean that our need for cars and petrol will also decline?  How will that affect our imports from japan, or the production of petrol from our own refinery?

An important element of this kind of consumption is that you look to see if your seller has been offering a good service - how does Trade Me rate their efficiency, their packing and delivery?   In other words it is dependent on trust and the building up of our reputation - just as in international trade we look to those countries and companies that have a reputation for delivering what we want, what they say they will deliver within the agreed costs and time.   Maybe instead of reducing the overall amount of trade, it will see enhanced trade between trusted partners as a result of this kind of collaborative consumption at an individual level.   As well it may mean that goods that have sat around waiting for a buyer can somehow reach a customer that needs them.     What do you think - a bit far-fetched?  a possibility?

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