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Leading the Way to Latin America’s Future

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Leaders need to do two things, and do them very well: create a vision and mobilize people around it, said Ngaire Woods, Dean of the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, United Kingdom, in the closing session of the 2018 World Economic Forum on Latin America.

“A leader is someone who takes you farther than you thought you could go,” noted Luiza Helena Trajano, Chairwoman of the Board of Directors, Magazine Luiza, Brazil. In a business you lead people by connecting to their minds by letting them participate; their hearts by recognizing their worth; and their pocketbook by letting them participate in the profits, she added.

Several panellists cited different polls about “most-respected professions” that show leaders in labour, business and politics as “cellar dwellers”. This may help explain the anti-establishment mood that has created space for populists with simplistic ideas. Trust in institutions, politicians and democracy is on a downslide.

Alejandro Ramírez, Chief Executive Officer, Cinepolis, Mexico, cited a poll showing that a large majority of Latin Americans believe that life is worse now than it was 50 years ago despite improvements in objective indicators such as GDP per capita, infant mortality and life expectancy. He ascribes this “cognitive dissonance” to “the lack of the rule of law”. Of the world’s 50 most violent cities, 42 are in the region. The problem can be traced in large part to a “failed drug policy,” he said. “It is not working.” In addition, business and political leaders have focused excessively on reforms designed to encourage economic growth and not enough on inclusiveness and equality.

Woods outlined three elements of a good leader. First, listen. If a populist candidate says he is going to give everyone a gun, it might seem absurd. But it demonstrates that the candidate understands their concerns about security. This is the opposite of how most politicians operate with their spin doctors.

The second element on Woods’ list is communications. Populist messages may seem simplistic. “But simple doesn’t need to be simplistic,” she said. “Learn to take the time to communicate clearly.” Clear messages help citizens hold officials accountable.

Leaders also need to transmit a “transformational message,” Woods concluded. Talk about “balancing the budget is not transformative”. What vision will speak to the people?

Comparing the politician-citizen link to customer relationships in business, Candido Botelho Bracher, Chief Executive Officer, Itaú Unibanco, Brazil, suggested that political leaders pay more attention to the problems of their constituents. “Good leaders are able to listen and understand the pain points that people have when they are looking for services in education, health or transportation,” he said.

Accountability of leaders extends not only to what they do, but also to what they fail to do, noted Paul Bulcke, Chairman of the Board, Nestlé, Switzerland. “Leadership is not about your tenure but what you leave for the next people,” he added.

“There is no room for electoral con artists anymore,” said Maria Cristina Frias, Member of the Board and Columnist, Folha de São Paulo, Brazil. “Candidates need to listen.”

Outcomes of the meeting included:

The World Economic Forum and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) strengthened efforts to accelerate gender parity in Latin America. A Gender Parity Task Force is set to launch in Peru to increase gender parity in the labour market, following earlier announcements by Argentina, Chile and Panama. This is the fourth such task force in Latin America, resulting from collaboration with the IDB to narrow gender gaps in labour force participation, leadership, remuneration and investment.

With the changing nature of work, the meeting focused on solutions for human capital development, particularly for youth. Closing the Skills Gap 2020 was launched at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2018 in January was expanded to Latin America. The Adecco Group, Barclays, EY, SAP, Mercer and Nestlé announced founding commitments. The project calls on businesses to lead training, reskilling and upskilling initiatives for 10 million people by 2020.

The Forum and the Government of Colombia have in the last year run a public-private partnership to transform and modernize the country’s electricity system so that it benefits from cutting-edge technology and regulation. The successes are highlighted in a white paper launched at the meeting in São Paulo, entitled Frameworks for the Future of Electricity. Sessions explored how to create similar partnerships in other Latin American countries. This forms part of the Forum’s System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Energy.

The Fostering Effective Energy Transition global framework and index were launched at the meeting. They were developed within the Forum’s System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Energy to benchmark the performance and readiness of 114 countries to support an effective energy transition.

The Brazilian Ministry of Industry, Foreign Trade and Services (MDIC) and the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation announced a new partnership aimed at increasing Brazil’s competitiveness in international trade and boosting economic development. The partnership will see the Alliance, the Brazilian government and the local and international private sector work together to develop and implement targeted trade facilitation reforms.

The Forum’s New Vision for Agriculture initiative brought ministers of agriculture and senior leaders of Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Paraguay together with global and regional CEOs, technology innovators, civil society and regional organizations to define new strategies to accelerate large-scale impact. Country and regional partners committed to action on raising productivity, improving environmental sustainability and land-use, boosting efficient value-chains and shaping consumer demand as part of a systems agenda to realize Latin America’s role as the breadbasket of the world.

The World Economic Forum and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) brought 50 Latin American start-ups together in São Paulo to pave the way for the necessary reforms to enable regional entrepreneurs to thrive. The selected start-ups shared the stage with ministers and CEOs for a frank and honest discussion about the challenges start-ups face in Latin America.

The Forum’s Partnering Against Corruption Initiative (PACI) launched Tech for Integrity , a digital platform that

leverages emerging technologies from 96 global innovators and partnerships with multistakeholders, including Citi, the IDB, Transparency International and others, to accelerate the impact of anti-corruption efforts for public, private and civil society leaders.

An outcome of a session hosted by PACI was the agreement with the Chair of B20 Argentina to co-curate a joint meeting between G20/B20/C20 stakeholders to accelerate the adoption of leading practices and policies in addressing corruption in the private sector. The meeting will be hosted after the Summit of the Americas in Buenos Aires in late April 2018.

Siemens signed a memorandum of understanding with APEX aiming to support potential economic growth in Brazil. Siemens plans to triple its investments in Brazil over the next five years to $1 billion. They expect this commitment to catalyse a new cycle of sustainable growth, with an impact equivalent to 3.1% of GDP and the creation of up to 1.2 million jobs.

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Hardened US and Iranian positions question efficacy of parties’ negotiating tactics

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The United States and Iran seem to be hardening their positions in advance of a resumption of negotiations to revive a 2015 international nuclear agreement once Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes office in early August.

Concern among supporters of the agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program which former US President Donald J. Trump abandoned in 2018 may be premature but do raise questions about the efficacy of the negotiating tactics of both parties.

These tactics include the Biden administration’s framing of the negotiations exclusively in terms of the concerns of the West and its Middle Eastern allies rather than also as they relate to Iranian fears, a failure by both the United States and Iran to acknowledge that lifting sanctions is a complex process that needs to be taken into account in negotiations, and an Iranian refusal to clarify on what terms the Islamic republic may be willing to discuss non-nuclear issues once the nuclear agreement has been revived.

The differences in the negotiations between the United States and Iran are likely to be accentuated if and when the talks resume, particularly concerning the mechanics of lifting sanctions.

“The challenges facing the JCPOA negotiations are a really important example of how a failed experience of sanctions relief, as we had in Iran between the Obama and Trump admins, can cast a shadow over diplomacy for years to come, making it harder to secure US interests,” said Iran analyst Esfandyar Batmanghelidj referring to the nuclear accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by its initials.

The Biden administration may be heeding Mr. Batmangheldij’s notion that crafting sanctions needs to take into account the fact that lifting them can be as difficult as imposing them as it considers more targeted additional punitive measures against Iran. Those measures would aim to hamper Iran’s evolving capabilities for precision strikes using drones and guided missiles by focusing on the providers of parts for those weapon systems, particularly engines and microelectronics.

To be sure, there is no discernable appetite in either Washington or Tehran to adjust negotiation tactics and amend their underlying assumptions. It would constitute a gargantuan, if not impossible challenge given the political environment in both capitals. That was reflected in recent days in Iranian and US statements.

Iranian Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested that agreement on the revival of the nuclear accord was stumbling over a US demand that it goes beyond the terms of the original accord by linking it to an Iranian willingness to discuss its ballistic missiles program and support for Arab proxies.

In a speech to the cabinet of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, he asserted that the West “will try to hit us everywhere they can and if they don’t hit us in some place, it’s because they can’t… On paper and in their promises, they say they’ll remove sanctions. But they haven’t lifted them and won’t lift them. They impose conditions…to say in future Iran violated the agreement and there is no agreement” if Iran refuses to discuss regional issues or ballistic missiles.

Iranian officials insist that nothing can be discussed at this stage but a return by both countries to the nuclear accord as is. Officials, distrustful of US intentions, have hinted that an unconditional and verified return to the status quo ante may help open the door to talks on missiles and proxies provided this would involve not only Iranian actions and programs but also those of America’s allies.

Mr. Khamenei’s remarks seemed to bolster suggestions that once in office Mr. Raisi would seek to turn the table on the Biden administration by insisting on stricter verification and US implementation of its part of a revived agreement.

To achieve this, Iran is expected to demand the lifting of all rather than some sanctions imposed or extended by the Trump administration; verification of the lifting;  guarantees that the lifting of sanctions is irreversible, possibly by making any future American withdrawal from the deal contingent on approval by the United Nations Security Council; and iron-clad provisions to ensure that obstacles to Iranian trade are removed, including the country’s unfettered access to the international financial system and the country’s overseas accounts.

Mr. Khamenei’s remarks and Mr. Raisi’s anticipated harder line was echoed in warnings by US officials that the ascendancy of the new president would not get Iran a better deal. The officials cautioned further that there could be a point soon at which it would no longer be worth returning to because Iran’s nuclear program would have advanced to the point where the limitations imposed by the agreement wouldn’t produce the intended minimum one year ‘breakout time’ to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb.

“We are committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely. At some point, the gains achieved by the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) cannot be fully recovered by a return to the JCPOA if Iran continues the activities that it’s undertaken with regard to its nuclear program…The ball remains in Iran’s court, and we will see if they’re prepared to make the decisions necessary to come back into compliance,” US Secretary Antony Blinken said this week on a visit to Kuwait.

Another US official suggested that the United States and Iran could descend into a tug-of-war on who has the longer breath and who blinks first. It’s a war that so far has not produced expected results for the United States and in which Iran has paid a heavy price for standing its ground.

The official said that a breakdown in talks could “look a lot like the dual-track strategy of the past—sanctions pressure, other forms of pressure, and a persistent offer of negotiations. It will be a question of how long it takes the Iranians to come to the idea they will not wait us out.”

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Wendy Sherman’s China visit takes a terrible for the US turn

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Photo: Miller Center/ flickr

US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, had high hopes for the meeting in China. At first, the Chinese side did not agree to hold the meeting at all. The reaction had obvious reasons: Antony Blinken’s fiasco in Alaska left the Chinese disrespected and visibly irritated. This is not why they travelled all the way.

So then the State Department had the idea of sending Wendy Sherman instead. The US government actually needs China more than China needs the US. Sherman was in China to actually prepare the ground for Biden and a meeting between the two presidents, expecting a red carpet roll for Biden as if it’s still the 2000s — the time when it didn’t matter how the US behaved. Things did not go as expected.

Instead of red carpet talk, Sherman heard Dua Lipa’s “I got new rules”. 

That’s right — the Chinese side outlined three bottom lines warning the US to respect its system, development and sovereignty and territorial integrity. In other words, China wants to be left alone.

The bottom lines were not phrased as red lines. This was not a military conflict warning. This was China’s message that if any future dialogue was to take place, China needs to be left alone. China accused the US of creating an “imaginary enemy”. I have written about it before — the US is looking for a new Cold War but it doesn’t know how to start and the problem is that the other side actually holds all the cards

That’s why the US relies on good old militarism with an expansion into the Indo-Pacific, while aligning everyone against China but expecting the red carpet and wanting all else in the financial and economic domains to stay the same. The problem is that the US can no longer sell this because there are no buyers. Europeans also don’t want to play along.

The headlines on the meeting in the US press are less flattering than usual. If the US is serious about China policy it has to be prepared to listen to much more of that in the future. And perhaps to, yes, sit down and be humble.

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Why Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer

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When Sarah Huckabee Sanders showed up on the scene as White House Press Secretary, the reaction was that of relief. Finally — someone civil, normal, friendly. Jen Psaki’s entry this year was something similar. People were ready for someone well-spoken, well-mannered, even friendly as a much welcome change from the string of liars, brutes or simply disoriented people that the Trump Administration seemed to be lining up the press and communications team with on a rolling basis. After all, if the face of the White House couldn’t keep it together for at least five minutes in public, what did that say about the overall state of the White House behind the scenes?

But Psaki’s style is not what the American media and public perceive it to be. Her style is almost undetectable to the general American public to the point that it could look friendly and honest to the untrained eye or ear. Diplomatic or international organization circles are perhaps better suited to catch what’s behind the general mannerism. Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer, but a Sean Spicer nevertheless. I actually think she will do much better than him in Dancing With The Stars. No, in fact, she will be fabulous at Dancing With The Stars once she gets replaced as White House Press Secretary.

So let’s take a closer look. I think what remains undetected by the general American media is veiled aggression and can easily pass as friendliness. Psaki recently asked a reporter who was inquiring about the Covid statistics at the White House why the reporter needed that information because Psaki simply didn’t have that. Behind the brisk tone was another undertone: the White House can’t be questioned, we are off limits. But it is not and that’s the point. 

Earlier, right at the beginning in January, Psaki initially gave a pass to a member of her team when the Politico stunner reporter story broke out. The reporter was questioning conflict of interest matters, while the White House “stud” was convinced it was because he just didn’t chose her, cursing her and threatening her. Psaki sent him on holidays. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

Psaki has a level of aggression that’s above average, yet she comes across as one of the most measured and reasonable White House Press Secretaries of the decade. And that’s under pressure. But being able to mask that level of deflection is actually not good for the media because the media wants answers. Style shouldn’t (excuse the pun) trump answers. And being able to get away smoothly with it doesn’t actually serve the public well. Like that time she just walked away like it’s not a big deal. It’s the style of “as long as I say thank you or excuse me politely anything goes”. But it doesn’t. And the American public will need answers to some questions very soon. Psaki won’t be able to deliver that and it would be a shame to give her a pass just because of style.

I think it’s time that we start seeing Psaki as a veiled Sean Spicer. And that Dancing with the Stars show — I hope that will still run despite Covid.

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