At the sixth Latin America, United States and Spain in the Global Economy forum, held in New York on Wednesday morning, attendees addressed an array of pressing challenges, including the wildest dreams and nightmares of artificial intelligence; the very real food security crisis affecting hundreds of millions of people in the post-pandemic era of war and environmental disasters; adapting infrastructure and inflation behavior amid the challenges of climate change; and economic recovery and digitization in Latin America. The morning’s discussions revolved around the idea of transformation to tackle looming issues.
Political, economic and press leaders from both sides of the Atlantic gathered at the Roxy Hotel’s cozy theater in Manhattan to discuss ways to strengthen transatlantic ties in the name of common progress. Joseph Oughourlian, the chairman of Prisa Group (which publishes EL PAÍS), summarized the spirit of the meeting early on: “This is a very special moment for relations between Spain and the United States, and also between Spain and Latin America,” he said in his opening speech.
The forum featured keynote addresses by the acting Prime Minister of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, and the Governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy. The gathering was organized by EL PAÍS, and it has become a tradition during the week in which the United Nations General Assembly meets. The newspaper’s editor in chief, Pepa Bueno, described the three-way relationship between Spain, Latin America and the Spain-U.S. Chamber of Commerce as a “virtuous triangle.” The forum was sponsored by Abertis, Baker McKenzie, Grupo Nutresa, Iberia, Inditex and Indra; the Organization of Ibero-American States participated in the event as well.
The event kicked off with speeches by Oughourlian and the chairman of the Spain-U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Alan D. Solomont (who was also the U.S. ambassador to Spain under President Barack Obama). Oughourlian focused on the Spanish presidency of the European Union, which, he said, is making “huge progress in the relationship between the EU and Latin America,” a region often “forgotten” in the EU at a time when Europe has so much to deal with, from the Russian invasion of Ukraine to trade with China to its relationship with the United States.
Oughourlian also highlighted the value of Prisa’s news products and its commitment to quality and rigor. But, as he noted, “that doesn’t mean that we stay neutral with all these themes…We look at what’s going on in the world...we’ve taken very strong positions on climate change. We’ve taken a very strong position on feminism…and obviously on food security. Those are things that are very close to what we are and what we want to be not just in Spain, but also throughout Latin America.”
Like other speakers would do at the meeting, Solomont stressed “the importance of the ties between the United States, Spain and Latin America.” He observed that “in today’s world, our economies are more interconnected than ever. It is important especially to recognize that the strategic partnership between Spain and the United States is paramount for security and prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic.”
According to Solomont, “strengthening global connections has always been important, but it has taken on even greater significance in recent events, such as the global pandemic disasters [and the ones] taking place in Morocco and Libya.” He added that “the Russian invasion of Ukraine along with changes in geopolitical dynamics have rigorously challenged the global economy. This requires adaptation and resilience of the world’s productive business and institutional frameworks. It is during these unprecedented times that the Spain-U.S. Chamber of Commerce can demonstrate its role as an important pillar in transatlantic relations,” he argued. Some of the most influential companies in Spain and the United States, as well as leaders in the energy, banking, construction and food and beverage sectors, belong to the Spain-U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“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 editor in chief of EL PAÍS introduced Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez by asserting the importance of teamwork (among politicians, businessmen and journalists) to ensure success in what she described as the two most pressing challenges of our time, “green transformation and gender equality.” Sánchez turned his speech into a vindication of his government’s achievements in the green economy, containing inflation and its “reformist and transformative path,” which, he said, demonstrates that “Spain wants to continue moving forward.” His intervention could also be interpreted as a proposal; it offered some clues as to what he intends to do if he can secure a second term and form a cabinet (environmental transition and reducing structural unemployment).
At the end of the morning, Spain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs José Manuel Albares gave a speech emphasizing the transatlantic relationship’s importance in the complex international environment. “There is no doubt in my mind that we find ourselves at a time of economic and political change. The challenges we face are enormous, and our citizens expect…that we 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,” said Albares.
The Spanish foreign minister also referred directly to the war in Ukraine: “I am often reminded of the fact that Ukrainians are fighting every day because they know the political system they are building is fundamentally different from the one Putin is trying to impose on them. They are willing to risk their lives to defend the democratic values that are still the aspiration of people across the world. It is essential that we join them in defending these values at home and abroad.”
Thus, “for Spain, for the European Union, the transatlantic relationship is paramount,” he emphasized. “The values we share, the mutual interconnection 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 cited the July EU-CELAC summit and joint initiatives between the European Union and the United States as examples of such cooperation.
Near the end of the forum, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D) noted that Spain is one of the top 20 trading partners of the state “in the middle of the Northwest corridor,” where he said that “20% of the United States’ Gross Domestic Product” is generated. “We share a lot of things from an economics standpoint, such as the focus on life sciences, agriculture and tourism, from Mallorca to the Jersey Shore.” Murphy explained New Jersey’s success by its “location, population concentration [9.3 million] and diversity” (“20% of our residents are Latino”). The governor also underscored the state’s commitment to offshore wind energy as crucial for addressing climate change.
After Sánchez’s speech, the conversation turned to the challenges facing the U.S. economy, specifically, the effects of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which President Joe Biden pushed through in the summer of 2022 after laborious negotiations with Congress. Its passage represented one of the biggest investments in the fight against climate change ever made in official U.S. policy. In just over a year, it has attracted $270 billion (€250 billion) in pledged clean energy investments. Investors also praise the long-term tax credits that come with the measure.
“For the first time, we have an industrial policy in the United States that is not limited to credits for one or two years: we now have the certainty of 30 or 40 years,” American Clean Power chair Susan Nickey said at the Building on the Inflation Reduction Act panel, which was moderated by José Morán, the chair of Baker McKenzie’s energy, mining and infrastructure group.
According to Gabriel Alonso, the CEO of 547 Energy, the United States is “the most attractive market in which to invest, because of its long-term stability. Its durability and certainty puts the U.S. at the forefront of the energy transition.”
But in addition to inflation, other problems in the sector still need to be resolved, such as the length of time it takes to receive permits on transmission lines, said Puneet Verma, Avangrid’s Vice President for Federal Government Affairs. “You commit to a project you want to do, you shell out certain investments, and you end up waiting seven years. To get those dollars up and running we have to solve the permit problem,” he argued. Alonso concurred: “Every time we develop a new project, it takes twice as long to build it.”
Another of the morning’s highlights addressed one of the most urgent issues on the global agenda: food security. That topic was discussed at a roundtable that included Carlos Ignacio Gallego, the CEO of Nutresa Group; Álvaro Lario, the CEO of IFAD; Mario Lubetkin, the regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean at the United Nations’ FAO-Food and Agriculture Organization; 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 and the energy crisis.” He went on to summarize the major factors affecting the problem, including the pandemic, war, energy costs and climate change.
Lario stressed that the trend toward reducing hunger has stopped. “After the war in Ukraine, many heads of state and governments are putting food security at the center of their policies as a national security issue,” he said. “In the last three years, our programs have increased the incomes of 77 million people,” Lario added.
“In the business world, we are far removed from companies that have strategies that only look inward…We’re looking more toward others,” said Carlos Ignacio Gallego, providing a business perspective. “In Nutresa Group’s case, when we did this exercise of looking at others, of looking outward, we saw the problem of hunger.” According to Gallego, “in Latin America, when one speaks of food security, zero-hunger objectives and the fight against poverty converge…It is not enough for there to be land, we have to worry about access. In the business world, there are a number of opportunities to work on producing more food, increasing productivity, as well as developing the abilities of communities,” he said.
Suárez pointed to the hunger “gender gap.” In Latin America, 10% more women go hungry than men. Children’s hunger affects their intellectual development. Poverty and hunger are intertwined. Suárez also stressed the role of civil society and the organizations that combat the problem.
Building another Latin America
Mariano Jabonero, the secretary general of the Organization of Ibero-American States —which will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year as a key player in the region in education, culture and science— added to the climate conversation and called for building “another Latin America” based on the commitment to green energy. “It can become the first decarbonized region in the world, because of its capacity for the production of lithium and solar energy and because of the enormous mass of fresh water it has.” But he warned that “without democracy, human rights and equality, there is no progress.” Jabonero explained that the continent has awakened to the reality that “democracy cannot be taken for granted. It’s kind of like a physical exercise that we have to do every day.”
The IEO secretary general also emphasized one of his pet causes: digitalization in the field of education. He said that the pandemic presented a unique opportunity for “creating high quality education, and we cannot miss out on that opportunity.” Asked what Latin America’s greatest challenge will be, Jabonero replied that “there are many, but one fundamental [issue is that] in recent decades the region has grown the least in productivity. [Without] more productivity, there is no more wealth, and if there is no more wealth, there is nothing to share. Latin America has focused too much on raw materials and cheap labor. To progress, it is critical to connect the world of business with the world of education, to encourage investment in the knowledge economy. The region’s future will be mortgaged without all these elements.”
Two of Spain’s most internationally renowned companies, Iberia and Abertis, sat down for a conversation moderated by Inmaculada Riera, the CEO of the Spanish Chamber of Commerce. She repeated one of the morning’s common refrains: the importance of public-private cooperation for the inevitable green and digital transformations. She posed an essential question: “How do we change?” in her response, Teresa Parejo, Iberia’s director of sustainability, emphasized that aviation is one of the “most difficult sectors to decarbonize. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.” That industry is responsible for “between 2% and 3% of global emissions…It may not be much at present, but by definition the environmental transition must be done within a short period of time,” she argued.
Clearly, the main problem is long flights. With short flights, it will be easier to reduce emissions by employing “electrification or green hydrogen” (“a very interesting technology that does not solve the long-range problem,” Parejo lamented). However, some of these technologies, like promising sustainable aviation fuels, are still under development. Parejo also pointed out that there are operational solutions, such as creating a single European airspace, “so that airplanes do not have to make unnecessary turns.”
Chilean Christian Barrientos, the CEO of Abertis Mobility Services, gave the road infrastructure perspective. He noted that the world is moving decisively toward urbanization. Half of the global population already lives in cities, and that percentage will grow to 70% in the next 20 to 25 years. “This poses the challenge of interurban mobility as well as mobility within cities,” he said. He outlined the problem of financing road infrastructure, which is currently done in three ways: taxes, tolls and gasoline charges. How can electric cars be made to contribute to maintaining these expensive highways? Barrientos proposed sophisticated technologies for obtaining information on the movement of these vehicles. He also shared that Abertis is working on those ideas in Oregon, Utah, Virginia and Oklahoma.
Indra is another Spanish multinational that has a strong presence on both sides of the Atlantic. The company’s president, Marc Murtra, diagnosed the major trends in the world of innovation and technology. First, he highlighted the predominance of the United States: “The entire value chain is being created here,” he said. He also observed a major political trend: “technology once again has a huge public-private component.” That cooperation has happened in the past, he said, but it is now growing stronger. “The Biden Administration is focusing on strategic autonomy, which means establishing the area in which you have the ability to make decisions,” he explained.
The other major factor is understanding where the relevant technological trend changes are heading, like the internet back in its day and generative artificial intelligence now, and knowing how to combine short-term reality with the major long-term shifts.
Indra also has a significant presence in Latin America: it has some 20,000 employees and is quite familiar with the markets there. As for the United States, Murtra observed that “demand is monstrous in the U.S., but so is supply; it requires very large investments to have a relevant presence [in the U.S.]…We have taken a prudent approach, investing in the sectors where we most excel, such as air traffic control.”
Indra’s CEO emphasized the importance of Chat GPT and of generative artificial intelligence in general. " [It’s] a tool that boosts productivity and has an enormous impact where there is conventional data.” He added that it will also be of great importance in the defense field—”it is going to change everything”—but he pointed out the importance of addressing the ethical issues AI raises. His company already has over 100 pilot tests to understand what is going on and has found them to be highly efficient tools, although they depend on each sector.
Murtra’s ideas tied in with the theme of the closing roundtable, which featured Beena Ammanath, the executive director of Deloitte Global Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and Carme Artigas, Spain’s secretary of state for Digitalization and Artificial Intelligence; the panel was moderated by Ángel Alonso Arroba, Vice Dean of Management and Development at IE University’s School of Public and Global Affairs.
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