El tema de las cumbres

Hace pocos días, con ocasión de la convocatoria a un foro internacional de nivel presidencial, de aquellos en que se habla mucho y se resuelve poco, el presidente Piñera manifestaba su opinión bastante escéptica sobre ellos: al parecer, no estaba muy convencido de su utilidad. No le faltaba razón al mandatario chileno, pues estas “cumbres”, como así suele llamárselas, que se suceden con persistente incidencia, son convocadas con bombos y platillos, hatos y garabatos, con una agenda y objetivos bastante ambiciosos, todos ellos tendientes a abrir una nueva etapa en las relaciones hemisféricas. (Fuente: por Enrique Valle Andrade – Diario Hoy, Ecuador – 09/11/2011)

Salvo casos excepcionales, luego de la proliferación de discursos interminables y uno que otro desplante o acontecimiento pintoresco, casi siempre terminan en líricas declaraciones o en la suscripción de algún documento que poco interesa a la mayoría de los países asistentes y que, casi siempre, favorece a los Estados poderosos interesados en convocarlas. En nuestro subcontinente, la crítica no comprometida miró siempre con pesimismo la consecución de metas a través de estas reuniones en que los poderosos exigen la asistencia y aglutinan como en rebaño a los débiles, para llevarlos a adoptar planteamientos que convienen a los primeros.

Algunos críticos en Europa parecen coincidir en esta posición; Lluís Bassets, prestigioso periodista español, opina que hay un gran escepticismo sobre la utilidad de las cumbres internacionales, compartido incluso por muchos de los gobiernos que asisten a ellas y lo más curioso es que los que más creen en ellas son aquellos que, en plazas y calles, más protestan contra su convocatoria, pues piensan que sus resoluciones cambian el rumbo del mundo. En realidad, según Bassets, lo más dramático de su dudosa utilidad es que no hay ninguna otra fórmula que pueda servir para ensayar algo parecido a un mundo gobernado. En América Latina, probablemente para evitar ser conducidos en rebaño al vaivén de los intereses de los poderosos, se han creado nuevas organizaciones regionales que tienen el propósito de encontrar respuestas a problemas que los organismos supranacionales tradicionales aparentemente no han podido solucionar. Esto ha sido causa generadora de nuevas cumbres, cuya convocatoria y periódica asistencia consume gran parte de la actividad de los gobernantes, quienes pasan entre aviones y hoteles empleando un espacio de su tiempo de trabajo que bien podrían dedicar a la atención de los problemas domésticos en sus propios patios. No porque estas nuevas cumbres sean de distinta dimensión y ámbito, sus resultados han sido diversos; igual que las otras, se han quedado también en la discusión estéril, el discurso reivindicativo, la denostación del capitalismo, al que siempre se le pronostica su próximo fin, y la permanente diatriba contra el imperialismo, eterno culpable de las frustraciones y fracasos de América Latina.

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China competirá con EEUU por su influencia en la Cumbre APEC

China y Estados Unidos, las mayores potencias mundiales, medirán su capacidad de influencia sobre la región más próspera del mundo en plena crisis, en la Cumbre del Foro de Cooperación Económica de Asia-Pacífico que se celebra esta semana. China ha expresado su cautela con algunas de las medidas que propone EEUU, su principal rival comercial pero también uno de sus mayores socios. Hu Jintao, mantendrá un encuentro con su homólogo estadounidense, Barack Obama, en el marco de la cumbre que se celebra en la ciudad natal del inquilino de la Casa Blanca. (Fuente: Agencia EFE – 09/11/2011)

La XIX Cumbre de Líderes Económicos de APEC, que tendrá lugar los días 12 y 13 en Honolulu, se produce en un momento de dificultades para la recuperación económica global, con una creciente inestabilidad y riesgos en los mercados financieros. A la reunión ministerial del viernes día 11 asistirán también el ministro chino de Asuntos Exteriores, Yang Jiechi, y el de Comercio, Chen Deming. Sin embargo, el viceministro de Asuntos Exteriores chino Wu Hailong calificó esta semana de “ambiciosos” los objetivos que se ha marcado Washington para el encuentro. “Las expectativas (de EEUU) son demasiado altas y van más allá del alcance de los países miembro menos desarrollados”, señaló Wu durante un encuentro con los medios el lunes.

Según Wu Hailong, Washington busca resultados sustanciales, como la reducción de aranceles para productos medioambientales y de la intensidad del consumo de energía, así como aprobar políticas sobre innovación consideradas difíciles por miembros más débiles. El asistente del Ministerio de Comercio Yu Jianhua reconoció que China no ha sido invitada a unirse al Acuerdo de Asociación Transpacífico (TPP), una iniciativa de Washington para un tratado de libre comercio en la región, que cuenta con 2.500 millones de consumidores y un 44% del comercio global. De las 21 economías que componen APEC, nueve de ellas están negociando el TPP: Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malasia, Nueva Zelanda, Singapur, Estados Unidos, Vietnam y Perú. Además de los nueve países mencionados, APEC está compuesta por Canadá, Indonesia, Japón, Corea del Sur, Filipinas, Tailandia, Taipei, Hong Kong, China, México, Papúa y Rusia. En caso que Japón, la tercera economía mundial, accediera a unirse al grupo, EEUU conseguiría una influencia en la región que China mira con desconfianza. Yu aseguró que China está dispuesta a estudiar acuerdos comerciales multilaterales, pero subrayó que el TPP debe ser “abierto e inclusivo” y pidió equilibrio entre el TPP y otros pactos de liberalización del comercio ya existentes. China está intentando cerrar acuerdos comerciales similares con Japón y Corea del Sur, y mantiene un tratado de libre comercio (TLC) con los diez países que conforman ASEAN: Birmania, Brunei, Camboya, Filipinas, Indonesia, Laos, Malasia, Singapur, Tailandia y Vietnam. El objetivo de Washington es ampliar su TPP a los 21 miembros APEC, pero China insiste en que las economías de la región se están desarrollando a diferente velocidad. Poseedora de la mayor reserva de divisas del mundo, con 3,2 billones de dólares (2,3 billones de euros), tanto Europa como EEUU, tradicionales potencias occidentales, han tenido que recurrir al apoyo financiero de China para afrontar la crisis. Pero, las exigencias de Washington para la cumbre incluyen avances que Pekín considera que, de momento, no puede asumir. El encuentro entre Hu Jintao y Obama será el undécimo desde que el segundo asumió la presidencia estadounidense, y se produce a pocos días de la conclusión de la cumbre del G20 en Cannes. Hu Jintao se reunirá también con el presidente de Perú, Ollanta Humala, y con sus homólogos de Japón, Canadá o Vietnam.

Europe’s leadership deficit

Sometimes the conventions of dead-tree newspapers are much more effective at getting a story across than the same article on a website. Landon Thomas’s 1,100-word piece on George Papandreou is a case in point: you can work through the whole thing, or you can glance at it in the paper, where a pair of sub-heads do the job rather effectively. “Prime Minister Lacked Forcefulness” says one; the other tells us that “a leader proved unable to connect with constituents.” Meanwhile, a similar prime ministerial ousting seems to be taking place in Italy, where the highly forceful Silvio Berlusconi, a man who connects viscerally with his constituents, looks as though he might get pushed aside in the national interest much as Papandreou was. (source: Felix Salmon – Reuters – 09/11/2011)

What we’re seeing here is the crucial role that national leadership has to play in sovereign debt crises. There have been questions over Italy for a while, but conventional wisdom has generally had it as being either the third or the fourth of the PIGS dominoes to fall. Instead, it now looks as though it’s falling so fast it could even, conceivably, overtake Greece. The amorphous blob known as the “international community”, as represented by the likes of the ECB, the IMF, and even the US Treasury, is playing a dangerously technocratic game in Italy, largely oblivious to the enormous tail risks involved. The general idea seems to be that Berlusconi is a massive liability, but that underneath it all, the fiscal program he’s being forced to agree to is a good one. Kick him out, install a more professional technocrat, and all should be fine.

But just look at Greece, and the fate of Papandreou, the very model of a modern professional technocrat. When the populace is revolting and the government is imposing tough choices on its citizens, you need someone in charge who can do more than navigate committees and corridors in Brussels and Washington. In fact, that kind of thing is best delegated to finance ministers and central bank governors. The leader of the country has a much more important job, which is to lead the country. I’m thinking here of Brazil, which managed to come out of its own debt crisis, in 2001, thanks to some very smart and able technocrats at the finance ministry and central bank. But, and this is crucial, it was also led by a popular and charismatic leader, who managed to persuade the country that he was acting in its best interests. There are many people who deserve credit for the fact that Brazil avoided default in 2001-2, but Lula, an uneducated union leader without a technocratic bone in his body, has to be at the top of the list. At the same time, and crucially, Lula had the full support of the international community in everything he was doing. At no point was any entity as powerful as the ECB or the German government using sticks, threatening to force him into default if he didn’t do what they wanted. Everybody understood that their interests were aligned, and that it would be best for all concerned if they tried as hard as possible to work with rather than against each other. And this is why the current Europe crisis is looking so bad. Interests aren’t aligned at all: everybody wants to push the costs of the crisis onto someone else. And in the past couple of weeks, things have gotten significantly worse: the northerners have started quite explicitly threatening the southerners with a lack of cooperation and the consequent inevitable default if they don’t pick up their game.

This is a strategy which is almost certain to end badly. It can work in the short term, but only in the very short term: because if the markets think there’s a serious risk that the Eurozone powers might let Italy fall, then they will simply walk away. And suddenly the entire burden of financing Italy’s budget deficit for the foreseeable future will fall on the ECB, Germany, and the rest. Which is a situation simply unsustainable. Or, to put it another way: Europe has a leadership problem raised to the 17th power. One weak or bad leader, Papandreou or Berlusconi, can suffice to hole the euro project below the waterline. But parachute in the best of all possible leaders into Greece and Italy, and you still have a problem. There’s Germany, and France, and the ECB, and even the likes of David Cameron and Tim Geithner meddling where they’re not really welcome. And the only way that this crisis can work itself out effectively is if they all agree on the same solution. But the essence of leadership is, well, leading. It’s not simply agreeing to do the same thing that the other 16 guys want to do. In Brazil, Lula set the course, and international community, as well as his own technocrats, implemented it and made sure it worked. There was no doubt who was in charge. In Europe, none has a clue who’s in charge, and 17 different people want to set the course. Which means, I fear, that it’s doomed.

A slice of lime in the soda: http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2011/11/08/europes-leadership-deficit/

Merkel Seeks to Ease German Arms Exports

Chancellor Angela Merkel is seeking to make it easier for the German arms industry to export weapons. In a position paper sent to Brussels recently, Berlin asked that “economic interests” be “adequately considered” when it comes to export controls on arms shipments. That German exports have remained strong despite the brewing crisis in Europe is hardly a secret. Indeed, a new report emerged on Tuesday indicating that exports actually climbed in October by 0.9 percent relative to September. In comparison to September 2010, exports even skyrocketed by a hefty 10.5 percent. (source: Der Spiegel – 08/11/2011)

Angela Merkel, it would seem, is anxious to do her best to ensure that the trend continues and according to information obtained by SPIEGEL, arms exports have become one of her administration’s focuses. In a position paper delivered to the European Commission on Oct. 27, which SPIEGEL has seen, the German government argues that, when it comes to export controls, “The effort to prevent proliferation and destabilizing arms accumulations should not unreasonably hinder or impede legal trade, particularly when it comes to economic relations with new regional powers.” The document focuses on so-called “dual-use goods” which have both military and civilian applications. Both “foreign and security policy considerations” as well as “economic interests” should be “adequately considered,” the position paper states. German arms exports amounted to €15.1 billion between 2005 and 2010, making it the world’s third leading weapons exporter. The words “human rights” do not make an appearance in the 21-page document, though Merkel frequently emphasizes that her government’s security policy is “values driven.” Despite such claims, however, one of the Merkel administration’s primary focal points when it comes to arms are exports to Saudi Arabia, despite the country’s autocratic regime. In the future, Berlin hopes, it will become easier to deliver dual-use goods, armaments and weapons to the Gulf country. Already, Germany has delivered a factory to Saudi Arabia for the manufacture of assault rifles and has exported a border control system (Syria?).

More controversially, Merkel’s government in July reportedly approved the export of 270 Leopard II battle tanks to Saudi Arabia. The approval, which was first reported by SPIEGEL and has neither been confirmed nor denied by the government, has been particularly contentious in Germany due to the assistance provided by the Saudis to Bahrain in crushing that country’s “Arab Spring” uprisings. Riyadh sent a tank unit to the country’s capital Manama to stop the demonstrations and many fear that German-made Leopard II tanks could likewise lend themselves to such authoritarian crowd control. Germany is similarly keen to increase trade ties with India, which has expressed interest in the Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft. In the paper Berlin sent to Brussels, the German government gave voice to concerns regarding European Union proposals to reform export controls for dual-use goods. The Merkel administration is opposed to broadening or harmonizing EU controls. Suggestions aimed at increasing exports and eliminating bureaucracy related to arms shipments, however, are supported by Berlin.