A Word from the Founding Chairman

Gil Rémillard

Founding Chairman,

Economic Forum
of the Americas (IEFA)

Unlike in previous years, in 2017 we are not just turning a page; we are opening a new book. We are doing so because, without necessarily dropping the book of globalization into the recycling bin, clearly we must put aside the instructions on how to gradually implement borderless global trade, the better to pause and reflect on the many fundamental changes – political, economic, social and cultural – that are affecting our planet, and think about how we can most constructively deal with them.

We are in the process of building a new world. The problem is that we have a tricky jigsaw puzzle in front of us. Although it only consists of three pieces, we don’t know what it will look like once it is finished. Three fundamental revolutions, in energy, communications and digital technology, are changing the world but, unfortunately, without a necessary leadership, uncertainty is along the way.

To put it plainly, we are going through a period that in many ways resembles what industrialized countries went through during each of the three great industrial revolutions, specifically those at the end of the 20th century. The outcome was World War I (1914-1918), the Great Depression (1929) and World War II (1939-1945), before the glory days of international peace and global growth returned. Today, some nine years after the Great Recession of 2008, there is definitely cause for concern.

In 2008, anxious to avoid repeating the mistakes of the 1930s, the central banks printed money and cut interest rates, thereby enabling countries to ride out the Great Recession and avoid the worst. One upshot of those policies, however, is that today we have very little room to maneuver.

The current return of populism, which we are living, is a reaction to the fear caused by global political and economic insecurity. Yet, things are not all bad, as evidenced by a recent OECD finding that projected global growth in 2017. In addition, the United States, leading driver of the global economy, is performing remarkably well, with an unemployment rate of around 4.6%.

It should also be noted that a slowdown in the pace of globalization is not necessarily a bad thing, if it allows us to make some much-needed adjustments, specifically as regards the fourth industrial revolution. Last May, the company Adidas made history by announcing it was moving shoe production from China back to Germany: the advent of robotics and 3D printing meant the company could manufacture its product at home, directly and inexpensively, while also creating jobs. This is the context in which we must view President-Elect Donald Trump’s promise to make Apple bring its smartphone production back to the United States from China in order to create jobs. This move could, however, have some serious collateral consequences. In the meantime, Ford and Chrysler Fiat have announced that they are stopping production abroad to develop their domestic production capacity in the United States.

Furthermore, the development of robotics means that man-made mechanical creations are changing not only the way we do things, but also the way we think. Outsourcing (i.e., the movement of work that was previously done in-house to another country) will become less and less common. World trade will consequently continue to decline year after year, causing countries to adopt protectionist policies that represent a return to bilateral negotiations, at least for a time, as opposed to the recent multilateral trade discussions.

However, 2017 could be the year that marks the return of responsible international leadership, so lacking today. Indeed, we are already starting the new year with a newly elected UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, who should bring the fresh impetus this indispensable institution requires in order to fulfill its global governance role. After it came into being in 1995, the World Trade Organization (WTO) influenced early globalization but, since its inability to conclude the Doha Round, it has essentially become a dispute settlement body which, in the current circumstances, is a considerable undertaking. At this particularly significant time for the WTO, it should either reappoint its current Director-General, Roberto Azevêdo, or elect a new leader.

If 2016 was a year of breakup, 2017 could mark the start of the resulting discussions, with Brexit negotiations leading the way, and the arrival of the new American president, Donald Trump. Although a wave of more conservatism is sweeping a large part of the world, this is not in itself a bad thing, as long as we keep a tight rein on potential abuses. This shift in the political landscape could provide a much-needed opportunity to adapt to the radical changes resulting from the fourth industrial revolution and the pressing demands of sustainable development.

We know that a major pitfall of all revolutions are the possibilities of excess with its economic and socio-political consequences. The series of attacks all over the world testifies to this search for new fundamental moral values that can create serious conflicts.

In 2016, Syrian refugees demanded that countries fulfill their basic duty to welcome people whose lives are in danger, in return for the refugees’ promise to integrate into the host society. This exchange of duties should in no way undermine any country’s fundamental right to selective immigration policies. Indeed, this is the only way in which the trap of ethnic nationalism can be avoided, and multiculturalism can be a measure of unity and national prosperity. The challenge of inclusion is fundamental for all States.

The good news is that the communications revolution is leading us towards a universal humanism based on a more inclusive and equitable form of capitalism. Promoting this new humanism will be the primary objective of the four upcoming events organized by the IEFA (International Economic Forum of the Americas), including the all-new Conference of Paris, which will come to fruition in 2017 after several years of discussion. In 2017 and 2018, the IEFA will host some 9,000 participants from all major business sectors and from every continent at the following events:

-      The Toronto Global Forum; the 11th edition will take place October 30 - November 1, 2017; Redefining Globalization;

-      The Conference of Paris; the 1st edition will take place December 7 - 8, 2017; Reshaping Globalization;

-      The World Strategic Forum, held in Miami; the 8th edition will take place on April 16 - 17, 2018; Leading An Era of Change;

-      The Conference of Montreal; the 24th edition will take place June 11 - 14, 2018; A New Globalization, Managing Uncertainty.

I look forward to welcoming you to our events!