From the wild dreams and nightmares of artificial intelligence to the very real food security crisis affecting hundreds of millions of people in these post-pandemic times of war and environmental disasters. And from the adaptation of infrastructures and the behavior of inflation in a context of climate challenges to economic recovery and digitalization in Latin America. These pressing challenges were the focus of the talks, which revolved around the idea of transformation, at the sixth Latin America, United States and Spain forum on the global economy, held Wednesday morning in New York.
Political, economic and journalistic leaders from both sides gathered in the charming theater of the Roxy Hotel in Manhattan to discuss ways to strengthen transatlantic ties in the name of common progress. Joseph Oughourlian, president of Prisa (the publishing group of EL PAÍS), soon summed up the spirit of the meeting: "This is a very special moment for relations between Spain and the United States, but also between Spain and Latin America," he said in the opening speech.
The forum featured the keynote speeches of the acting President of the Government of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, and the Governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy. The meeting, which is already a tradition of the week in which the United Nations celebrates its General Assembly, was organized by EL PAÍS – whose director, Pepa Bueno, defined the three-way relationship between Spain, Latin America as a "virtuous triangle" – and the Spain-United States Chamber of Commerce. The event was sponsored by Abertis, Baker McKenzie, Grupo Nutresa, Iberia, Inditex and Indra and with the collaboration of the Organization of Ibero-American States (OEI).
The morning was opened by the interventions of Oughourlian and the president of the Spain-United States Chamber of Commerce, Alan D. Solomont, who was ambassador to Spain under Barack Obama. Oughourlian wanted to look at the Spanish presidency of the European Union, which is assuming, he said, "enormous progress in the relationship between the EU and Latin America," a region often "forgotten" in the EU at a time when there is so much to deal with in Europe: from the Russian invasion of Ukraine to trade with China or the relationship with the United States.
He also highlighted the value of Grupo Prisa's information products and its commitment to quality and rigor. "That doesn't mean that we look at what's happening in the world from a neutral point of view, but that we've taken very strong positions on climate change, on feminism, food security and other issues. These positions reflect what we are and what we want to be not only in Spain, but throughout Latin America," he warned.
Solomont insisted, like other speakers during the meeting, on "the importance of ties between the United States, Spain and Latin America." "In today's world, our economies are more interconnected than ever. It is especially important to recognize that the strategic partnership between Spain and the United States is paramount to security and prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic."
According to the president of the Spain-United States Chamber of Commerce, "strengthening global connections has always been important, but events such as global pandemic catastrophes or those taking place in Morocco and Libya have become even more relevant in recent years." "Russia's invasion of Ukraine, together with changes in geopolitical dynamics, have rigorously challenged the global economy, requiring the adaptation and resilience of the world's productive business and institutional frameworks." It is in these unprecedented moments when the Spain-United States Chamber of Commerce (to which some of the most influential companies in both countries belong, as well as leaders in many sectors, such as energy, banking, construction, food and beverages) can demonstrate its role as an important pillar in transatlantic relations, he argued.
"Today's forum is a tangible example of our efforts to highlight the alliances and partnerships that Spain, the United States and Latin America must forge to sustain individual and shared prosperity," Solomont concluded.
Green transformation and gender equality
The director of EL PAÍS gave the floor to Pedro Sánchez with a defense of teamwork (of politicians, businessmen and journalists) to guarantee success in what she defined as the two most pressing challenges of our societies: "Green transformation and gender equality". The acting Spanish president turned his speech into a vindication of the achievements of his Government in matters such as the green economy, the containment of inflation and "the reformist and transformative path" that, he said, shows that "Spain wants to continue moving forward." His words could also be interpreted in a propositional key; They contained some keys (the ecological transition or the reduction of structural unemployment) on what he intends to do if he finally manages to form a cabinet for a second term.
The Socialist government in office was also present with the intervention of its Minister of Foreign Affairs José Manuel Albares, who gave a speech in English at the end of the morning. Albares also stressed the importance of the transatlantic relationship in the complex international environment. "I have no doubt that we are at a time of economic and political change. The challenges we face are enormous, and our citizens expect us to protect them from the uncertainties they face. I think we can only rise to those challenges by leaning on our values and working with our friends," Albares said.
The Spanish minister had a direct reference to the war in Ukraine: "I often remember the fact that Ukrainians fight every day because they know that the political system they are building is fundamentally different from the one Putin tries to impose on them. They are prepared to risk their lives to defend the democratic values that remain the aspiration of peoples around the world. It is essential that we join them in defending these values at home and abroad."
In this context, "for Spain, for the European Union, the transatlantic relationship is paramount," he stressed. "The values we share, the mutual interconnectedness of our economies, place us in an unbeatable position to continue advancing together in strengthening international and multilateral institutions to promote strong, sustainable and inclusive economic growth, defend democratic governance and promote solutions to global challenges." Albares referred to the EU-CELAC summit last July and the joint initiatives between the European Union and the United States as examples of such cooperation.
Near the end of the forum, the Democratic governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, in office since 2018, recalled that Spain is among the top 20 trading partners of this State "in the middle of the Northwest corridor," he said, where "20% of the Gross Domestic Product of the United States" is generated. "We share a lot of things from an economic point of view, such as the focus on life sciences, agriculture and tourism, from Mallorca to Jersey Shore." Murphy explained New Jersey's success by its "location, its concentration of population [9.3 million inhabitants] and diversity" ("20% of our neighbors are Latino"). The governor also dwelt on the state's commitment to offshore wind energy, crucial, he said, to address climate change.
After Sánchez's speech, the conversation turned to the challenges of the US economy; specifically, on the effects of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which President Joe Biden carried out in the summer of 2022 after a laborious negotiation in Congress. Its approval represented one of the biggest accolades to the fight against climate change as an official US policy. In just over a year it has attracted 270,000 million dollars (250,000 million euros) in promised investments in clean energy. Investors praise the long-term tax credits that come with the move.
"For the first time we have an industrial policy in the United States that is not limited to credits for one or two years: now we have certainty for 30 or 40 years," American Clean Power President Susan Nickey said on the panel Building on the inflation reduction act. moderated by José Morán, president of Baker McKenzie's energy, mining and infrastructure group.
That long-term certainty, according to Gabriel Alonso, CEO of 547 Energy, makes the United States "clearly the most attractive market in which to invest, due to its long-term stability." "Its duration and certainty puts the United States at the forefront of the energy transition."
But other industry problems besides inflation still need to be addressed, such as the long time needed to receive permits on transmission lines, said Puneet Verma, vice president for federal government affairs at Avangrid. "You commit to a project you want to do, you disburse certain investments and you end up waiting seven years." "For those dollars to be put into operation, we have to solve the problem of permits," he said. Something in which Alonso supported him: "Every time we develop a new project, it takes twice as long to build it."
Another highlight of the morning came with one of the most urgent issues on the global agenda: food security, discussed at a table in which Carlos Ignacio Gallego, president of Grupo Nutresa; Álvaro Lario, President of IFAD; Mario Lubetkin, Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean of FAO-Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; and Ana Catalina Suárez, Director of Strategy and Innovation at The Global Foodbanking Network.
Lubetkin pointed out that "the issue of food security is here to stay, like climate change or the energy crisis." He has reviewed the explosive factors affecting the problem, such as the pandemic, war, the cost of energy and climate change.
Lario highlighted how the trend in hunger reduction has been broken. "In the aftermath of the war in Ukraine, many heads of state and government are putting food security at the heart of their policies as a matter of national security," he said. "Over the past three years, our programs have increased the incomes of 77 million people," he said.
"From the business world we are very far from companies with a strategy designed only inwards and we look more towards the other," said Carlos Ignacio Gallego, providing the business perspective. "In the case of the Nutresa group, when we did that exercise of looking at the other, of looking outward, we found the problem of hunger." According to Gallego, "in Latin America, when one speaks of food security, the objectives of zero hunger and the fight against poverty merge." "It's not enough to have land, we have to worry about access. From the business world there are a number of opportunities to work in the production of more food, in increasing productivity, but also for the development of capacities in communities, "he said.
Suárez also pointed to the "gender gap" caused by hunger, which in Latin America is suffered by 10% more women than men. Hunger in children affects their intellectual development and hunger and poverty are intermingled. Suárez has also stressed the role of the third sector, of civil society, of the organizations that combat the problem.
Building another Latin America
Mariano Jabonero, secretary general of the Organization of Ibero-American States – an entity that is preparing to celebrate its 75th anniversary next year as a key player in the region in education, culture and science – took up the climate thread and called for building "another Latin America" from a commitment to green energy. "It may be the first decarbonized region in the world, due to its capacity for the production of lithium and solar energy; also because of the enormous mass of fresh water available." "But without democracy, human rights and equality there is no progress," he warned. Jabonero explained that the continent has awakened to the reality that "democracy cannot be taken for granted." "It's like a kind of physical exercise that we have to do every day," he said.
The Secretary General of the OEI also stressed one of his obsessions: digitalization in the field of education. The pandemic brought a unique opportunity, he said, "to produce high-quality education." "And we can't miss that opportunity." To the question of what will be the great challenge of Latin America, he answered: "There are many, but one fundamental: the region is the one that has grown the least in productivity in recent decades. If there is no more productivity, there is no more wealth and if there is no more wealth, there is nothing to distribute. Latin America has focused too much on raw materials and cheap labor. To progress, it is urgent to link the world of business with that of education, to encourage the investment effort in the knowledge economy. Without all these ingredients," he said, "the future of the region will be mortgaged."
Two of the Spanish companies with the greatest international projection, Iberia and Abertis, sat down for a conversation moderated by Inmaculada Riera, general director of the Spanish Chamber of Commerce, who repeated another of the mantras of the morning: the importance of public-private cooperation for the inevitable transformations (green and digital). He posed an essential question: "How do we transform?" Teresa Parejo, director of sustainability at Iberia, stressed that aviation is one of the "most difficult sectors to decarbonize". "But that doesn't mean it can't be done," he announced. That industry is responsible, he said, "for between 2% and 3% of global emissions." "It may not be much currently, but the ecological transition has to be done by its own definition in a short space of time," he argued.
The main problem is obviously long flights. With short films, it will be easier to reduce emissions by resorting to "electrification or green hydrogen" ("a very interesting technology that does not solve the problem of the long radius," lamented Parejo). The point is that some of these technologies, such as promising SAF (sustainable aviation fuels) fuels, are still under development. Parejo also recalled that there are operational solutions, such as the creation of the single European airspace, "so that planes do not have to make unnecessary turns."
The Chilean Christian Barrientos, director of Abertis Mobility Services, put the perspective of road infrastructure. He recalled that the planet is marching decisively towards urbanization. Half of the world's population already lives in cities, and that percentage will grow to 70% in the next 20 to 25 years. "That poses the challenge of intercity mobility as much as within cities," he said. He explained the problem of financing infrastructure, which is currently done in three ways: taxes, tolls and levies on gasoline. That third way is today in the United States the one that brings the most money. What can be done so that electric cars contribute to the maintenance of these expensive highways? Barrientos proposed sophisticating technologies to obtain information on the movements of these vehicles. He also revealed that Abertis is working on these ideas in the States of Oregon, Utah, Virginia and Oklahoma.
Indra is another Spanish multinational with a strong presence on both sides of the Atlantic. Its president, Marc Murtra, made a diagnosis of the major trends affecting the world of innovation and technology. He highlighted, first of all, the American predominance: "The entire value chain is being created here," he stressed. He also pointed out a great political current: "technology once again has a huge public-private component", something that has already happened in other times, as he indicated, but that is gaining strength. "The Biden Administration is betting on strategic autonomy, which means setting the perimeter in which you have the capacity to make decisions," he explained.
The other great key is to understand where the relevant changes in technological trends are going, as in its day it was the internet and now generative artificial intelligence, to know how to combine reality in the short term with the great background movements in the long term.
Indra is also very present in Latin America: it has about 20,000 employees and knows the markets very well. "In the U.S. the demand is monstrous, but the supply too, the investments required to have a relevant presence are very large and we have had a prudent approach, betting on the sectors where we have greater excellence, such as air traffic control," explained Murtra.
The president of Indra stressed the importance of Chat GPT and, in general, of generative artificial intelligence, "a tool that boosts productivity and has a gigantic impact where there is conventional data". In the field of defense it will also be of great importance ("it will change everything," he said), but he pointed out the importance of addressing the ethical problems it raises. His company already has more than 100 pilot tests to understand what is happening and has proven that they are highly efficient tools, although depending on each segment.
Murtra's ideas linked to the theme of the closing table, in which Beena Ammanath, executive director of the Deloitte Global Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and Carme Artigas, Secretary of State for Digitalization and Artificial Intelligence of the Government of Spain, participated in a table moderated by Ángel Alonso Arroba, Vice Dean of Management and Development of the School of Public and Global Affairs at IE University.
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