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On September 21, political, economic and educational leaders from both sides of the Atlantic met in the exclusive Yale Club, in the heart of Manhattan, to discuss the relationship between Spain, Latin America and the United States.

The forum – which included speeches by the Prime Minister of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, and the President of Colombia, Gustavo Petro – was organized by EL PAÍS and the Spanish-American 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 uncertainty, in order to promote economic cooperation and take advantage of investment opportunities.

Spain’s foreign minister, José Manuel Albares, said Russia’s “unjustified, brutal and unprovoked” aggression against Ukraine has worsened problems caused by the pandemic: supply chain difficulties, income inequality and the food crisis. Considering this scenario, he explained the importance 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 emphasized the strong historical, cultural and economic ties that unite Spain, the United States and Latin America, in particular the important Spanish investments in his country. “Spain already has a long relationship with the United States, which is getting stronger every year. The United States continues to be a strategic target for investment by Spanish companies,” he said.

José Morán, partner at Baker & McKenzie, moderated a discussion with several directors of companies based in the United States. Morán emphasized the importance of the Inflation Reduction Act recently passed by Congress, which also introduces economic incentives for clean energy.

The Director of Networks and Alliances of Iberia, María Jesús López Solás, explained how the Spanish airline has survived two very difficult years due to the pandemic. López Solás emphasized that, despite this, Iberia has made a firm commitment to sustainability, modernizing its fleet to have more energy-efficient aircraft. “We are fully committed to emissions reduction targets,” she said.

Investments are also very necessary in the infrastructure sector, especially in the United States, which launched a plan to renew public works, according to Lluís Sererols, the Financial Director of Elizabeth River Crossings, a company owned by Abertis. The Abertis group is interested in participating in public-private sector alliances to develop and manage infrastructure in the United States.

Marcos Latorre, General Manager 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 emphasized improved cybersecurity and the training of data scientists in his remarks. João Costeira, a member of Repsol’s Executive Committee, pointed out that large investments are needed to finance the energy transition and praised the tax incentives approved by the Biden government as smarter measures than simply imposing new taxes on fossil fuels.

At the beginning of the forum, Joseph Oughourlian, President of Prisa – the parent company that publishes EL PAÍS – emphasized how the communication 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 live in Central and South America. “We have invested a lot in Latin America in recent years, despite all the uncertainties, despite politics, regulation and also exchange issues,” he said.

Officials from international organizations also participated in the event. Christian Asinelli, Corporate Vice President for 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 shake the world.

“Although the pandemic has left many problems and increased inequality, Latin America has the conditions and the potential in energy and environmental transition,” explained Asinelli, emphasizing how the countries of the region are able to overcome their differences to meet development goals.

In a forum mostly focused on economic development, Mariano Jabonero, general secretary of 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 more than 850 million Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking people – but they have also grown very little in terms of productivity, along with Sub-Saharan Africa Africa. According to Jabonero, this problem stems from educational systems “of low quality and low inclusion.” “Vocational training and higher education [both] fail to improve productivity,” he warned.

What can be done about it? The Secretary General recommends hybrid education, in which the digital transformation is strengthened, with greater home 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.”

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