On September 21, political, economic and educational leaders from both sides of the Atlantic met at the exclusive Yale Club, in the heart of Manhattan, to discuss the relationship between Spain, Latin America and the United States.
The forum – which featured speeches by the prime minister of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, and the president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro – was organized by EL PAÍS and the Spain-U.S Chamber of Commerce. It was sponsored by Abertis, Baker & McKenzie, Hiberus and Iberia, with the collaboration of the OEI (Organization of Ibero-American States).
The speakers explained the importance of strengthening the historical, economic and cultural ties that unite Spain, Latin America and the United States in a global context of uncertainty, in order to advance economic cooperation and take advantage of investment opportunities.
Spain’s Foreign Minister, José Manuel Albares, said that Russia’s “unjustified, brutal and unprovoked” aggression against Ukraine had exacerbated problems caused by the pandemic: supply chain difficulties, income inequality and the food crisis. Given this scenario, he explained the cruciality of the transatlantic relationship: “When America and Europe decide to speak with one voice, the world listens and follows us.”
The minister promised to use the upcoming Spanish presidency of the European Union to strengthen the relationship between Europe and Latin America. “Spain is and will continue to be the gateway to Europe.”
José W. Fernández, Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and Environment, also highlighted the strong historical, cultural and economic ties that unite Spain, the United States and Latin America, particularly the significant Spanish investments in his country. “Spain already has a long relationship with the US that grows stronger every year. The US continues to be a strategic destination for investment by Spanish companies,” he said.
José Morán, a partner at Baker & McKenzie, moderated a discussion with several directors of companies based in the United States. Morán highlighted the importance of the Inflation Reduction Act recently passed by Congress, which also introduces economic incentives for clean energy.
Iberia’s Networks and Alliances Director, María Jesús López Solás, explained how the Spanish airline has experienced two very difficult years due to the pandemic. López Solás stressed that, despite this, Iberia has made a firm commitment to sustainability, by modernizing its fleet to have more energy-efficient aircraft. “We are fully committed to emission reduction targets,” she said.
Investments are also very necessary in the infrastructure sector, particularly in the United States, which has launched a plan to renew public works, according to Lluís Sererols, the Financial Director of Elizabeth River Crossings, an Abertis-owned company. The Abertis group is interested in participating in public-private sector alliances to develop and manage infrastructure in the United States.
Marcos Latorre, General Director of Hiberus International Corp, underlined the importance of technology in the lifestyle changes caused by the pandemic, such as the expansion of remote and telework. Latorre highlighted improved cybersecurity and the training of data scientists in his remarks. João Costeira, a member of the Executive Committee of Repsol, pointed out that large investments are needed to finance the energy transition and praised the tax incentives approved by the Biden administration as more intelligent measures than simply imposing new taxes on fossil fuels.
At the start of the forum, Joseph Oughourlian, President of Prisa – the parent company that publishes EL PAÍS – highlighted how the communications group earns more than 70% of its income from Latin America. In the case of EL PAÍS, he noted, more than half of all readers reside in Central and South America. “We have invested heavily in Latin America in recent years, despite all the uncertainties, despite politics, regulation and also exchange-rate issues,” he said.
Officials from international organizations also participated in the event. Christian Asinelli, Corporate Vice-President of Strategic Programming at the CAF-Development Bank of Latin America, pointed out that “Latin America and the Caribbean can be a solution region” in the face of uncertainties that rattle the world.
“Although the pandemic has left numerous problems and increased inequality, Latin America has the conditions and the potential in energy and environmental transition,” explained Asinelli, highlighting how the countries of the region are capable of overcoming their differences to meet development goals.
In a forum largely focused on economic development, Mariano Jabonero, Secretary General of the OIE, brought an educational perspective to the discussion. He painted a worrying picture: the countries that make up the OIE are thriving – they contain the largest bilingual community and the fastest-growing population, with over 850 million Spanish and Portuguese-speaking people – but they have also grown very little in terms of productivity, alongside Sub-Saharan Africa. According to Jabonero, this problem stems from educational systems “of low quality and low inclusion.” “Vocational training and higher education [are both] failing to improve productivity,” he warned.
What can be done about this? The Secretary General advocates hybrid education, in which the digital transformation is strengthened, with greater household access to the internet and teachers who have stronger technological training. “The future is virtual, technological and digital. This is an educational challenge to overcome, but also a political and economic one.”