PANAMA CITY, Panama -- Americas Competitiveness Forum in which, among other senior officials, the president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli; the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Kamla Persad-Bissessar; and the assistant secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), Albert Ramdin, participated, concluded today after three days of discussion on “Infrastructure and Technology Shaping the Countries of Today.”
The Forum, which opened on Wednesday, October 1, and was organized by the OAS and the government of Panama, was attended by over 1,200 participants, including competitiveness ministers and high officials, entrepreneurs, professors, infrastructure experts, and representatives of international organizations.
In that context, the annual meeting of the Inter-American Competitiveness Network (RIAC) and a meeting of Ministers of Economy, Finance, Industry, and Trade were also held, in addition to sectoral and sub-regional activities, such as the meeting of competitiveness authorities of Central America, the workshop for Caribbean competitiveness authorities, and the workshop on subnational competitiveness.
During the RIAC meeting, on Wednesday, the second report "Signs of Competitiveness in the Americas" 2013 was presented. That report aims to share the experiences and advances of the region’s countries in the implementation of the ten principles of the Santo Domingo Consensus, adopted at the 2011 RIAC meeting.
The prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, accepted the chairmanship of the Inter-American Competitiveness Network (RIAC) from Panama’s Minister of the Presidency, Roberto Henríquez. The prime minister invited all present to the eighth Americas Competitiveness Forum to be held from October 8 to 10, 2014, in Port-of-Spain under the theme “Human Imagination at Work: Driving Competitiveness, Empowering Innovation.” The prime minister also commended Panama for the success of this year’s forum.
The OAS assistant secretary general, Albert Ramdin, thanked Panama for its efforts while presiding the RIAC over the past year, and he assured all present that the OAS “stands ready to continue working with Trinidad and Tobago in preparation for the meeting.”
“Next year’s theme is critical in building a country. Let’s talk about creativity, ideas that drive societies. These are fundamental topics, and I am proud to see that Trinidad and Tobago has decided to select this subject,” Ramdin added.
Panel 1: Development of Sustainable Cities
On Friday, the last day, the Forum hosted four simultaneous panels on the central theme of that meeting, starting with an emphasis on “Development of Sustainable Cities,” which sought responses to the question “What infrastructure is required for the cities of the XXI Century”?
Panel moderator Mark Weiss, chairman and CEO of Global Urban Development, opened the debate, stating that “infrastructure is the basis of economies; it is key to being competitive to obtain resource efficiency, energy productivity, to strengthen the entire economy, all industries, to boost business and create jobs.”
“In addition to being the basis for economic growth,” Weiss added, “sustainability creates new industries and new technologies.”
Deborah Thomas, managing director of East Port-of-Spain Development Co. of Trinidad and Tobago, a state company dedicated to promoting the development of the eastern area of that city, said that “cities have been like magnets of hope. However, without infrastructure, hope engines stop running.” In the context of East Port-of-Spain, she explained that her company is implementing “a strategy of urban renewal.” She indicated that infrastructure projects, by themselves, can bring benefits such as increasing the productive capacity of the population and closing the existing gaps as to access to technology, among others.
“In particular in low-income communities,” she continued, “infrastructure is a bridge to a world with other opportunities, and it reduces marginalization.”
Marco Kamiya, chief regional executive for public policy and competitiveness of the Latin American Development Bank (CAF), underscored that “a sustainable city is a competitive city.” And competitiveness, in terms of cities, Kamiya said, “is simply greater productivity.”
The official of the development institution gave details of the CAF’s Program, “Cities of the Future,” which seeks to integrate the social aspects of infrastructure to environmental aspects, and finally to productive transformation systems.
Jess Zimbabwe, executive director of the Urban Land Institute at the Daniel Rose Center for Public Leadership, made three observations on the relationship between infrastructure and sustainable urban development. First, she said, “infrastructure is for people, not for automobiles or the latest technology whatever it may be.” Second, infrastructure does not only mean connections between buildings, but “land use is also an infrastructure’s solution.” Finally, Zimbabwe said, “we need to invest, not just spend, in infrastructure,” and she added that it is important to have a long-term perspective.
Ramiro Márquez, general manager of Medellín’s Metro in Colombia, recounted his experiences with the suburban railway, which he described as “environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive.
“Competitiveness,” he asserted, “is, mainly, the responsibility of people.”
And as such, he added that it is important to transport people in a way that allows them to reach work peacefully and in good condition in order for them to be productive.
“With this kind of systems, security returns, governance recovers, and the wellbeing of the population prevails,” Márquez concluded.
Panel 2. “The Infrastructure of the Future: The Road to Follow for the Next 10 Years”
“The Infrastructure of the Future: The Road to Follow for the Next 10 Years” was the focus of another panel, moderated by Maryse Robert, director of the Department of Economic and Social Development of the OAS, and its main topic was “What infrastructure does the region require to become more competitive”?
Robert recalled the words of the executive secretary for Integral Development of the OAS, Sherry Tross, who spoke during the “Infrastructure 3.0” week that “refers to the aspiration of our countries to have economic, social, environmental, and sustainable conditions that allow us to build societies more just and with better prospects for prosperity, awareness, and coexistence.”
Ricardo Arango, manager of the World Urban Forum, spoke of the transformation experience of the Colombian city of Medellín over the last decades.
“Medellín experienced a population explosion,” Arango said, which led to insecurity, inequality, inefficient investment, and the creation of what he called “urban-area tribes” (“tribus-banda-urbanas”). Much of the city’s response to these problems was based on education, but also on the fundamental concept of “putting the best infrastructure just in the areas that needed it most” in order to integrate areas of the city that had been isolated.
Pedro Rodrigues de Almeida, head specialist in infrastructure industries and urban development at the World Economic Forum, underscored the need for governments to forget political cycles and to look 40 years into the future when establishing their infrastructure strategies.
Furthermore, Rodrigues de Almeida said, “it is impossible to talk about infrastructure in an isolated manner,” but basic elements of the vision and characteristics of the city, the country, and even the region must also be taken into account.”
Carlos Pirovano, investment deputy secretary of the Economic Development Ministry of Argentina, described the case of the city of Buenos Aires and the plans to provide it with a modern infrastructure. The Argentine capital, he said, being an old city, faced deterioration issues in various areas, especially in the southern part, each with different requirements: an audiovisual district in the Northeast, a technological district in the Southwest, an art district in the Southeast, and a design district in the South of the city.
Roberto de Michele, head specialist for private sector development, IDB Guatemala, spoke on the use of the infrastructure to achieve financial inclusion and competitiveness in the region. He first noted the barriers that exist, among them, supply inefficiency in the region, technical incapacities, and inadequate conditions. As to solutions, at the micro level, he identified a value chain approach, risk management tools, and technical assistance; at the medium level, financial education and a renewed role of the Public Bank; and the macro level, the need to simplify regulatory frameworks.
Cynthia Medina Chapa, legal deputy director of Nacional Financiera (NAFIN) of Mexico, summarized the macroeconomic challenges to the development of her country, and the mission “to promote the industrial sectors and create products to meet the market.” She said that micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) that support her institution have been facing obstacles, such as limited access to finance, volatile and informal markets. However, Medina said that her government is responding with a series of measures that include energy, financial and telecommunications reforms, among others, in order to improve the competitiveness of this sector.
Videoconference: “Economic and Social Development: The New Learning”
Following the panels, Michael Porter, leading professor and president of the Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness at Harvard Business School, presented an interactive videoconference entitled, “Economic and Social Development: The New Learning,” in which he emphasized that the mere idea that economic development must benefit all the citizens of a country represents a breakthrough.
The Harvard professor underscored that economic development “is an endless challenge, a job that never ends,” but while necessary, it is not enough to advance in competitiveness. To achieve that goal, Porter said, citizens and businesses must share the success. And this, in turn, depends on human development and on having sound legal and political institutions. How to measure social development, he added, is a much less advanced field than basic economics, and he suggested the creation of a new index, the Social Progress Index, to separate this variable from economic progress.
In concluding, Porter asserted that “companies are beginning to redefine their identities. When in the past they traditionally focused on their products, today the concept of shared value is forcing them to define themselves according to the social purposes they meet.” That transformation, the Harvard professor said, offers an opportunity for businesses to win the respect of society as a whole.
Following his presentation, Porter participated in a question-and-answer session with Rubén Berrocal, national secretary of science, technology and innovation of Panama; Domingo Latorraca, former president of the Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture of Panama and partner of financial advisory services and consulting of Deloitte.
Participants also heard a lecture by Luis Alberto Moreno, president of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), entitled “Broadband, Opening Roads to Competitiveness.” Another panel focused on “Multilatinas and their Regional Expansion,” as well as infrastructure challenges that businesses in several countries of Latin America are facing.
Ricardo Ernst, deputy dean and professor of operations, co-director of the Global Logistics Research Program of the McDonough School of Business of Georgetown University, moderated the panel in which also participated Gerald Gómez, General Manager of Procter and Gamble – Ladmar; Ricardo Quijano, Minister of Trade and Industry of Panama; Stanley Motta, president of Motta International SA, Panama; and David Smith, commercial director for Central America and Venezuela, Dell, Inc.
The last panel discussed the topic “Innovation and Connectivity for Development” and analyzed the role of innovation in improving the competitiveness of the region’s countries. Moderated by Gary Gereffi, director of the Center on Globalization, Governance and Competitiveness of Duke University, the panel was comprised of Isaac Lucatero Castañeda, director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico; Annette Nicholson, vice president of corporate strategy and regional management of IDRC, Canada ; and Cardinal Warde, professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) .
Americas Competitiveness Forums are held once a year, and their main objective is to encourage business development and to allow the exchange of ideas and knowledge so that the countries of the Americas may become more innovative, productive and competitive and, thus, may improve the living standards of their citizens.