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From Hamburg to Buenos Aires: Education, Innovation and the Future of Work

Vista from Buenos Aires
Sabrina Shaw, Regional Director, Latin America, G20 Research Group
September 8, 2017, updated on September 24, 2017

The presidency of the G20 will be transferred from Germany to Argentina on December 1, 2017, but Argentina is already actively working in coordination with the German presidency on what it considers to be the most important international event hosted by Argentina in the country's recent history. Conscious of the differences in perspectives brought by the shift of the presidency across the Atlantic, Argentina has pledged to hold wide consultations to bring "a new Southern vision" to shaping an interconnected world. The shift is from an economic titan to an aspiring developing country at a vital moment for the country and for the region. The stakes are high.

Argentina is in a process of economic recovery, flowing from significant reforms to open up its economy to the region and the world and, importantly, to attract foreign confidence and capital to enable renewed prosperity. On a rare trip to Latin America just prior to the G20 Hamburg Summit and to coordinate a smooth handover of the presidency, German chancellor Angela Merkel praised Argentina for its "courageous reform path." Greater integration within the regional common market, Mercosur, and a trade agreement with the European Union are top of the agenda to boost growth in South America's two largest economies at a moment when Argentina is still facing high inflation and fiscal deficit and Brazil gradually recovers from two years of economic contraction and continues to prosecute endemic corruption.

As the architect of the agenda for the next G20 cycle, Argentine president Mauricio Macri and his personal representative, Pedro Villagra Delgado, have indicated the broad strokes of a forward-looking vision to pursue "fair and sustainable development." Argentina's intention is to guide the G20 along a transparent and inclusive process during the first South American presidency of the G20 at the leaders' level, with a focus on bringing in voices from the South American region and from developing countries.

Argentina is assessing how to forge consensus on a broad array of issues among a diverse membership. It is conscious of the imperative to take forward its predecessor's agenda set out in the Hamburg Leaders' Declaration. Building on the resilience pillar of the German presidency, Argentina's agenda is taking shape on:

  1. the future of work and how to educate and train the workforce in a constantly shifting and technologically driven era; and
  2. poverty reduction and inclusive growth in the region and developing countries.

The nexus for coordination on this agenda is education and innovation — socioeconomic challenges both in developed and developing countries. What education and training will the future workforce require? How can the G20 coordinate training systems? Argentina will endeavour to construct a coordinated approach to jobs, innovation and education to enable consensus and concrete results. 

This agenda also flows from the domestic context faced by Argentina at a time of significant change and consequent uncertainty, in which Macri has shifted course, opening up the country's economy and building bridges within the region and beyond.

Argentina considers the G20 to be vital for trade, which drives the global economy. It will work to strengthen the multilateral trade system through the World Trade Organization (WTO), particularly as host of the WTO ministerial conference on December 11-13, 2017. By hosting these two events — the WTO ministerial and the G20 summit — Argentina will establish its reintegration into the global community.

The Argentine agenda for the presidency is already showing promise to capture the opportunities to contribute to global governance on work and education. It is the risks — so present in Hamburg — that underlie a need for careful consultation and considerable caution. Two key challenges lie ahead: first, U.S. president Donald Trump, whose characteristic unpredictability broke the climate change consensus in Hamburg, and, second, security issues, because the threat of terrorism and anti-globalization protests are de rigueur for any event of this importance and present a significant logistical challenge to the host.

Argentina is likely to find it difficult to build on Germany's initiative to unite climate change and energy security in a separate Climate and Energy Action Plan for Growth, which the United States refused to sign. Reflecting the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and in order to bridge the "global governance gap" flowing from lack of U.S. leadership, Argentina is likely to address energy and climate change separately, on their own merits, attempting to find common ground on energy efficiency, renewables and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

It may prove challenging for Argentina to champion developing country voices, while aspiring to belong to another club, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Faced with a volatile global arena alongside an intense domestic political setting (with legislative elections in October), within a region struggling against populism and protectionism, Argentina has its work cut out.

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Sabrina ShawSabrina Shaw, PhD, Regional Director, Latin America, of the G20 Research Group, where she follows and writes on the Argentine presidency of the G20, which starts on 1 December 2017 and runs through 2018. She received her doctorate from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok on bioenergy in the Mekong. She worked for over a decade at the World Trade Organization, including as secretary to the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment and to various dispute settlement panels. She lives in Buenos Aires and is currently also an associate at the International Institute for Sustainable Development. She is working with the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development, the Fundación Foro del Sur and the International Migration Organization to prepare the Symposium on Trade and Sustainable Development and the Forum on Migration, Trade and the Global Economy to be held alongside the WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires on December 11-14, 2017.

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