President and Chief Executive Officer,
International Economic Forum of the Americas
The 3rd International Economic Forum of the Americas – The Conference of Paris, held from November 13 to 14 at the OECD Conference Centre, was a great success. More than 70 speakers and presenters, with some 1,300 participants from all regions around the world, took part in frank and open dialogue on the global economy.
During the two days of meetings and discussions, it became clear that global economic uncertainty is causing investors and consumers to be concerned, and hence cautious, as they wait for signs such as the conclusion of a US-China trade deal, agreement on the currency war problem, and the resolution of intellectual property issues to speed up the completion of free trade agreements. However, if they have to wait too long, they will become anxious and afraid to invest and consume, leading to a severe recession.
The positive stock market performance is mainly due to low interest rates and the necessity of investing in the market in order to get a decent return. This should not be considered a sign of good economic health. Rather, it should be seen as a potential threat that could easily get out of hand – as happened to the real estate sector, for the aforementioned reasons.
Furthermore, global debt – and more specifically the debt accumulated by China and the corporations – reminds us that the Central Banks don’t have much room to manoeuvre. Clearly, they have fewer tools at their disposal today than they did in 2008. But does that mean we should be pessimistic? Not as long as we are prepared to make an effort to understand the major changes we are facing, and act accordingly.
Indeed, the digital revolution and AI, as well as the technology, communications and energy revolutions, compel us to re-examine the way we think about the changing human condition and the planet on which it exists. At The Conference of Paris, all of the speakers emphasized the urgent need for climate change action.
But, what does “act accordingly” mean? The entire planet is going through a period of profound change. Instant communication technology means everyone can communicate with everyone else, everywhere in the world. By comparing themselves to others, people gain insight into the way they live; in some cases, they join forces to demand better socio-cultural, political or economic conditions. On every continent, people are challenging authority and bringing down governments in the name of democracy, freedom and inclusion.
This is why Conference speakers strongly emphasized the obligation to adapt liberalism and capitalism to these new imperatives. But here again, we must ask: What does this “inclusion” that everyone is talking about actually mean?
A consensus gradually emerged, with many voices calling for a new and more equitable form of economic globalization. States can and must be able to join forces and engage with one another, for mutual commercial and financial benefits, but also for social and cultural purposes – but these interactions must always be rooted in the concept of fairness, taking into account each nation’s specific circumstances.
Should we continue calling it “nationalism”, turning a blind eye to the possible protectionist subtext? The wave of populism rising in many countries, especially in Europe, has been much discussed, with many drawing comparisons between the current trend and the political climate of the 1920s and 30s that led to Nazism and World War II.
The presentations on this sensitive topic enabled Conference participants to highlight immigration problems, especially in developed countries. On the one hand, the presentations emphasized the obligation countries have to control their borders while, on the other, they stressed the humanitarian significance of people risking their lives in search of a better life.
Clearly, governments should have control over their borders. And, at a time when many countries are experiencing increasingly serious labour shortages, the newcomers who are admitted must benefit society as a whole. However, this line of reasoning is at odds with the concept of the refugee under international law, which states that all human beings have the right to seek asylum in another country if their living conditions pose a threat to their life or liberty.
However, several speakers asserted that this notion of the refugee no longer applies to all situations. What should we do? Caught between the necessity of controlling borders and the duty to respect humanitarian values, we are called upon to find solutions.
Unfortunately, as has been often stated, multilateral organizations are failing to lead the high-level international discussions that, given governments’ obligation to protect the public interest, would rapidly lead to the implementation of humane and realistic solutions.
Many speakers highlighted the need for us to rethink these organizations, many of which were set up at the time of the Bretton Woods Agreement. To counter the protectionist, antagonistic stance that unfortunately seems to be prevailing around the world, we need to define an inclusive, collaborative approach for citizens, businesses and institutions.
Some 75 years after D-Day and 30 years after the Berlin Wall fell, and at a time when Brexit is bringing the EU face-to-face with some existential questions, we are at a particularly important crossroads in our history. If we obey the imperative and work hard to fully grasp the fundamental changes we are facing, we will be able to provide the solutions that are needed to lead us all towards a new world order. This is the main objective of the International Economic Forum of the Americas – The Conference of Paris.