AmCham Vice Chair Clark Grue attends B20/G20 meetings in Turkey

Friday, November 20, 2015

November 15, 2015 -  A cloud of sadness and dismay hung over this gathering of global business leaders following the terrorist attacks in Paris the day before the Summit began.  A conference which was intended to emphasis bringing the world economies together was shaken by the tragic events in France on November 13th.

Every speaker expressed condolences and sympathy for the people of France and all of the victims prior to delivering their remarks.  One of the most moving was from IMF Chair Christine Legarde who grew up in Paris and was in the City of Lights on Friday night before flying to Turkey.  Her recollections of growing up as a girl in a peaceful global city and the stark contrast of the terror of being in the city during the chaos, brought silence to the room of delegates.

Throughout the conference, sympathetic remarks were followed by a resounding message to continue our efforts to come together to grow the global economy.  Almost spurred on by these attacks, the global community focused on employment for young people and women, increasing the connectivity of our markets, SME challenges and infrastructure development as a means to drive global economic growth. 

It was not surprising that this was the theme.  For the past year, multi-national taskforces have been working on these important challenges for the global business community; arriving at various recommendations for the G20 leaders to consider at this important Summit.  My engagement had been to serve on the SME and Entrepreneurship task force which examined the challenges of growth for SMEs in the global market.

The G20 is comprised of 19 of the world’s largest economies plus the European Union.  It is mandated to be an inclusive group which counts the G8 countries plus the largest developing nations as its members; in contrast to the G7/8.  In fact the host country is encouraged to invite a handful of smaller developing nations which are not yet part of the group.  This year it included Azerbaijan, Taiwan and Macedonia.

Throughout the program, the theme of infrastructure dominated the conversation.  Whether it is the US, Europe, Turkey, Russia or China this important area is being touted as the remedy for the global slow down.  A sector which creates jobs, can be financed over a long period of time by governments and requires skilled young people.  All big wins for this group if you believe in government being in the job creation business; or being any good at it.

Ironically, a similar debate was happening in Canada just a few short weeks ago.  Now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won a majority government on the back of a platform largely based on borrowing to spend on infrastructure.  This being the case, it was not a surprise to hear him support this strategy for growth in the global economy.

What was interesting during this his first international event as PM, was his global appeal. It seemed everyone wanted to meet him.  As one of the few Canadians in attendance, I was privileged to speak with him briefly prior to him taking the stage for his address.

In true Canadian style, after graciously taking photos, selfies and videos with multiple people from around the world, he sat amongst the group and listened to the Turkish President read a tele-prompted speech in his native tongue.  As the President was whisked away, the tele-prompters were removed and Mr Trudeau came to the podium calmly and methodically.  Without any notes or props, the young PM delivered his very effective 7 minute speech hitting multiple key points without pause.  This was followed by responses to two prepared questions. 

Following the PM, we heard from a panel consisting of CEOs, the Heads of the Bank of England, the IMF, the OECD and the WTO.  Each leader supported the concept of government spending on infrastructure as a pathway to growth and the return of 3%+ global growth of GDP.  That said, it was sobering to hear Angel Gurria, Secretary General of the OECD note that this is only the fifth time in the past 50 years that global growth has been below inflation.  Each of the past four times it has happened, it has resulted in a depression.  

This realization has the economic leaders of the world searching for bright lights and indications of hope in the global marketplace.  With the slowdown of growth in the BRIC nations, where is the growth that can drive future opportunities for the next generation? The question that began to emerge was: Can the US economy pull us out of this malaise again?

The US with its modest economic gains is being viewed as a white knight. It seems every county in the world sees the strength, or at least the openness of the American market as an opportunity to grow their own economy.  Canada’s traditional position as the number one trading partner of the US has been challenged firmly by China in recent weeks.  This connection to the hottest, albeit not too hot market in the world is envied by many trading nations.  Nations which are now lining up to secure key trade relationships with the US.   
Following this theme, there was much discussion about the Trade Facilitation Agreement, a recommendation initiated during past Summits designed to enhance global trade by encouraging more free trade agreements and continuing to reduce trade barriers.  That said, it was also noted that tariffs are no longer the primary obstacle to trade.   It is now trust and this is something that governments cannot directly affect.  It comes down to businesses and people.

Obviously, the TPP and TTIP were mentioned in this conversation.  Ironically, I heard no reference to Canada’s troubled and pending FTA with Europe; the CETA.

From the US perspective, it only makes sense to engage these trading partners.  The US is seeking global investment opportunities for their companies and working very hard to attract investors into the US market. For example, the Select USA program recently visited Germany and Canada with a clear goal of attracting companies to the US. This strategic initiative is designed to increase the US engagement with the world in a purposeful way.  

All of this causes me to reflect on our work at AmCham.  As the American Chamber of Commerce in Canada works to shore up the critical relationship between the US and Canada, enhancing and building the business activity between two of the best countries in the world,  it is vital that we understand that we are not alone in this quest.  The world is also fixated on our “Brothers to the South”.   In return, it only makes sense that the US would engage these trading partners as they seek global investment opportunities for their companies and work hard to attract investors into the US market. The Select USA program is not just a program, it is a strategic initiative designed to increase the US engagement with the world in a purposeful way.

Ambassador Heyman and the US Commercial Service have made Select USA a priority for the coming year.  The Ambassador believes that the largest contingent at the 2016 event should be from Canada.  He couldn’t be more correct.   This is an opportunity to solidify our importance to the US and show the world that we are not giving up our privileged status without a fight.

Our mandate could not be more important or critical to the Canadian economy.  For years we have had the advantage of being a very convenient trading partner for the US.  We have traded, invested, partnered, innovated and grown with US companies and organizations.  Let’s hope this familiarity and trust continues to grow and that our relationship is still critical to the US.  I believe it is.

Clark Grue, Vice Chair, National Board    
American Chamber of Commerce in Canada