Experts from the two countries gave an overview of the main issues for both parties
One of the most salient events on the 2017 Australian Leaders Programme agenda took place on Thursday 30 March at the Garrigues Auditorium in Madrid. “Spain-Australia Dialogue. Thoughts before a changing world” brought the Australian Leaders together with a group of experts from the business and academic world and with representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation.
The first roundtable at the event, “Post-Trump Globalisation”, featured Antonio Garrigues Walker, Honorary Chairman of Garrigues and Honorary Patron of the Spain Australia Council Foundation, as a moderator. The speakers for Australia were Leaders Susan Windybank, from the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) and Alastair Davis, Analyst at the Lowy Institute for International Policy. The Spanish representatives were the Communication and Institutional Affairs Director at GESTAMP, Miguel López Quesada, and Enrique Vedeguer Puig, Director of ESADE Madrid.
In his introduction, Antonio Garrigues praised the work of the Spain Australia Council Foundation and pointed out that “until the Foundation was created, relations between the civil societies of the two countries were virtually non-existent.” Australia is, in Mr Garrigues' opinion, “a crucial country” for Spanish interests in the Pacific.
The session focused on four main areas: Donald Trump's administration, the impact that his election has had on the globalisation of the world's economy, China's growing influence and the consequences of Brexit for Australia and the EU.
The two Australian analysts agreed that relations between the US and Australia will not be affected by the new Administration, given that “the alliance between the two countries is far more important than anything a single person might do”.
Regarding Donald Trump and his economic and foreign policy, Susan Windybank emphasised the US President’s opposition to large free trade agreements. In her opinion, the US preference for bilateral agreements will give rise to crossed interests, and “many of the benefits implied by free trade will be lost”. Alastair Davis remarked that “we will see greater moderation in time” in the positions of the US Administration and Antonio Garrigues, who believes Trump's extreme positions will be softened by pressure from American civil society, agreed.
Trump's election, together with Brexit, the economic crisis and other factors, has brought about a change in the image of globalisation, a concept which, as stated by Enrique Vedeguer, was seen in the 90s as “something that would have a positive impact on nearly the entire world”. Although ESADE's Director believes this process is “irreversible”, it could be impacted by these events in the short term.
Miguel López Quesada talked about how global companies such as Gestamp, which is present in many countries all over the world, will face those challenges. He believes the current state of affairs represents “a great opportunity for Spain”, explaining that the country is well-positioned in Europe and Latin America, and that its strong relationship with Japan and Australia stand it in well to improve its position in Asia and face the question of the big world player's interests, China.
China has become an all-important element for the world's economy. Alastair Davis emphasised that, although Xi Jinping took the world by surprise at Davos and presented himself as “a champion of globalisation”, “China sees the world as concentric circles with China at the centre”, so we should not assume the country will take a leadership role “beyond its most immediate interests”.
The last topic to be discussed at the roundtable was the UK's exit from the EU, as the day before the event British Prime Minister Theresa May had triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to initiate Brexit. The process will have a serious impact on trade which, according to Miguel López Quesada, “we will start to see in the coming years”.
The analysts agreed that it is too soon to judge the consequences of this process, but they do see a certain degree of moderation in the British position. They all interpreted Brexit, the US election and the rise of extreme populism in Europe as symptoms of the world's current situation, caused by a sense of loss of legitimacy among institutions, a legitimacy that Alastair Davis believes “we must rebuild”.
Despite all these problems, Antonio Garrigues' conclusion was optimistic. The Foundation patron argued that we are living in “fascinating times, wonderful times to think”, and times when no social player can keep doing “what they have been doing until now”; they must all redefine their roles in society.