The St.Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) opened in Russia today with the theme “Building An Economy Of Trust”. The forum is a renowned annual think-tank looking at concerns within the global economy and is attended by high ranking international politicians and academics from around the world. This year, key speakers are the French President Emmanuel Macron and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. They aim to add geopolitical meaning to the discussion and will be an attempt to depoliticize investment, business and trade, and economic cooperation. Previous attendees have included Xi Jinping, Angela Merkel, Narendra Modi, Ban-Ki Moon, Jean-Claude Junker, among many other dignitaries.
This year’s SPIEF has an additional angle to it as it also introduces a new group of Russian politicians in the wake of President Putins’ recent re-election as President.
Alexander Kalinin, President of the Opora Rossii, an organization which brings together roughly 450,000 Russian entrepreneurs, said: “This year’s SPIEF is unique. The country’s president has been just elected and the government has just been put together. It’s been a long time since we had honorary guests from Europe and Asia. I talked to German and French representatives of public business organizations. Everyone says that it’s time to abandon mutual mistrust. European businesses have suffered huge losses due to the series of sanctions and countersanctions. If the world is pushed towards new restrictions, and for example, US politicians are calling for this, what will be the result? We are destroying a very fragile structure of trust, which has been created by millions of Russian and European entrepreneurs. The business [community] does not want this confrontation to continue. This is the demand for governments of all countries now – to stop putting up mutual sanctions and restore trust and dialogue”, he said.
The opening session, during which Anton Siluanov, the new Russian Finance Minister, also stressed the need for trust, was notable for omitting any mention of the United States in dialogue concerning international trade and sanctions. Instead, there were illusions to the US in statements such as: “Actions aimed at serving the economic development of one particular country run contrary to established global trade norms”, were very much aimed at Washington.
The afternoon was notable for a number of delegates, including Chinese, Vietnamese, Middle Eastern, and African all voicing disquiet at actions made by an unmentioned country that has instigated a “reverse trend – sanctions stemming from protectionism and to protect local producers rather than global trade”. Siluanov then pointed to a new trade trend emerging and stated that Russia would be and had been adapting to a more sanctions-driven global economy, predicting the behavior of such impositions would increase. However, concerning again, a specific country but without using any name, he stated that the “implementation of global rules and regulations of trade are now being eroded – as is trust”.
I have attended many conferences such as this over the past quarter of a century, a period in which I have witnessed, and been involved with, first hand, the rise of China to the economic stage. During nearly all that time, the US has been held up as a model to follow. At this event, despite the fact detractors may point to the fact it is being held in Russia, I have never heard so much disquiet about the current state and future of global trade than being touted by the current version of the US. It’s not just the Russians, although they well have their grievances. President Trump is presiding over a country that is fast losing goodwill among both larger and smaller nations, many of whom are showing signs of feeling betrayed. Donald Trump will of course quite rightly argue that he was elected as President of the US and his responsibility is to his electorate and not to anyone else. The problem with that,when it comes to the promotion of international trade, is that as the World’s largest economy, other people’s reliance of American fair play is being questioned, and that global trust is being eroded. If it continues, countries with strong leaderships such as China and Russia, will start to offer alternatives. I’m not sure that Washington will be able to keep a lid on this view or even if its current isolationist mood desires it. SPIEF this year is consequently less an academic trade forum, more a rallying call for global change.
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