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  Félix Peña

INTERNATIONAL TRADE RELATIONS NEWSLETTER
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SPACES FOR ACTION-ORIENTED THINKING
Their growing virtual mode as a consequence of the Covid19 pandemic.


by Félix Peña
November 2020

English translation: Isabel Romero Carranza


 

In the sphere of international trade relations plenty of meetings are being organized by different types of institutions that have become spaces for the generation of action-oriented thought. For this reason, we consider it relevant to go back to the topic addressed in the December 2015 edition of this newsletter, reframing and updating the concepts and ideas then put forward.

The spaces we are referring to reflect the link between the analysis based on concrete experience and the objective of achieving greater progress and efficiency in the international commercial insertion of countries and companies. Their value is heightened by the dynamics and growing complexity of trade relations between nations today.

There are no unique models on how to approach the development of such spaces in any given country. However, it is possible to find common elements in the work methodologies used in these spaces, which are often interconnected.

These spaces are more effective when two conditions are met. The first is that those involved in government or business action show interest in receiving guidance from those who can contribute with their analysis and experience. This interest is reflected in questions that seek answers based, as much as possible, on actual experiences. The second condition is that those who are involved in analysis and reflection are willing to put themselves in the place of those engaged in concrete action, in order to make suggestions based on their experiences and to answer the hypothetical question of "how do I do it?

In their meetings, these spaces provide the opportunity for systematic conversations between actors with different social roles, visions and ideas on how to operate to have an effect on reality. It is therefore important that the working agenda of the corresponding meetings includes relevant and current issues, but with a strong projection towards the future.


On another occasion we have addressed the issue of ambits or think-tanks geared towards action-oriented reflection in the field of international trade relations (see the December 2015 edition of this newsletter on www.felixpena.com.ar). These are spaces of growing importance in the development of the international trade relations between countries. Therefore, we consider it relevant to go back to the topic of the above-mentioned Newsletter, reproducing and updating the approaches and ideas mentioned at that time.

In the field of international trade relations many are the meetings organized by different types of institutions that constitute spaces of action-oriented thinking. They often reflect the periodic activities of specialized institutions such as, to name only a few from Mercosur, the Brazilian Council for International Relations (CEBRI), the Argentine Council for International Relations (CARI), or the Uruguayan Council for International Relations (CURI). But above all, as of March of this year and as a consequence of the Covid19 pandemic, in most countries these organizations are developing virtual meetings. Therefore, they do not require travel, with the significant reduction in costs that this means. This could explain why they have now become more frequent. It could even be anticipated that the virtual mode will be maintained in the still uncertain post-pandemic period.

Through their meetings, these spaces for reflection show the link between analysis, based on concrete experiences, and the objective of achieving greater progress and efficiency in the international commercial insertion of countries and companies. They become ever more valuable in part due to the new dynamics and growing complexity of trade relations between nations today.

Action-oriented thinking spaces are more effective when two requirements are met. The first is that those in government or involved in business show interest in receiving guidance from those involved in thought and analysis. Such interest is reflected in questions that seek answers based, as much as possible, on concrete experiences. The other requirement is that those who are involved in analysis and reflection are predisposed to put themselves in the place of those immersed in the action, that is, on "the battlefield", in order to make suggestions based on experiences that provide an answer to the hypothetical question "how do I do it?

There are no single models for addressing the development of a meeting space for action-oriented thinking. But in those that do take place, common features can be observed in the institutions involved. Three of them are worth highlighting. The first is the capacity to include in multidisciplinary agendas of debates and research, issues that are perceived as relevant for the development of the international trade insertion strategy of the corresponding country. The second is to connect the action-oriented thinking activities with those carried out by think-tanks with similar objectives and methodologies in other countries that, for example, belong to the same geographic region. This networking, which, although incipient at the internal level of the countries and at the regional level, has much room for future development. And the third feature is the development of common agendas with other spaces for though with which they are connected.

The relevance of the key issues, as well as the density of the networks that are interwoven and the connectivity of the agendas, makes them a fundamental factor for the construction of a cooperative interdependence between countries, especially from the same region and in view of their insertion in the global trading system.

It is also possible to observe common elements in the work methods used by the different spaces, which are often connected to each other. A common element is an approach to their multidisciplinary agendas that includes the participation of actors who represent diverse social roles, generations and visions of reality. Another element is that they focus the analysis on a few issues relevant to the international trade agenda of the moment and that, due to their complexity, require to be assessed from different ideological and disciplinary perspectives. And a third common element is that they provide concrete and useful ideas for addressing relevant issues on the international trade agenda of a country or group of countries.

The meetings of such spaces are conversations, even virtual, between protagonists with different social roles (thought and action), and different visions of how to operate in reality. The way in which the conversation between the participants is approached is important. The best meetings are those in which the agenda contains few topics, a moderator who is a true catalyst for the debate, short initial presentations (ideally about ten minutes, without reading texts and, if possible, with few statistical tables) followed by a good period of conversation with short interventions (ideally about three minutes maximum) and with an active protagonism of the moderator. Usually these are meetings that do not require formal conclusions. The conclusions are drawn by each participant in view of their respective agendas either as a specialist, analyst or protagonist in the international trade insertion of their respective country. At the ICBC Foundation we are developing an interesting experience in conversation (the "Wednesday Cycle") with this methodology and with the participation of specialists who represent the diversity of countries and visions, social and economic roles, genders and generations. These are weekly virtual meetings with approximately twenty-five participants and lasting an hour and a half.

The many meetings that action-oriented thought generators hold reflect their growing relevance. They are expressions of the importance of the link between the analytical capacity and concrete action, especially public action, in order to achieve an effective approach to strategies for the integration into the international trading system. This relevance becomes even more meaningful in the light of the changing dynamics and the complexity of the political, economic, social and cultural dimensions of international trade relations in their reciprocal interaction, both globally and in each of the geographical regions.

It is also possible to see common elements in the work methods used by the different action-oriented thought centers, which are connected to each other, especially when they meet to share their analyses. A first common element is that their respective agendas are approached with the participation of multiple protagonists, who express diversity in terms of social roles, generations and visions of reality. They acknowledge that, in order to understand international realities from the perspective of a country or group of countries, multidisciplinary and pluralistic approaches are required, and that they are enriched by the diversities of all kinds that characterize today's global and regional environments. A second element is that they focus on a few issues that are relevant to the international agenda of the moment and that, because of their complexity, need to be considered from multiple disciplinary perspectives - for example, those that cannot be understood and addressed without combining the logics of power, economics, and law. And a third common element is that they try to contribute concrete ideas that can translate into actions and policies that seek to address relevant issues on the international agenda, whether from the perspective of a country or a group of countries.

The meetings of these spaces are aimed at fostering a process that is rich in its diversity of action-oriented thinking. The diagnoses expressed in the contributions of the various participants are important because they have an impact on the quality of the debates. But even more important is the emphasis placed on reflecting on how to address complex and relevant issues with concrete actions, especially at the level of global, inter-regional, and regional governance.

Otherwise, dialogue and interaction would prove to be difficult or even impossible. In such a case, one side would see the other as being too theoretical or scholarly, far removed from reality in their "ivory tower", whereas the other side would be regarded as self-absorbed and not interested in listening. This would create the breeding ground for a dialogue where nobody listens, which is often the case. This then generates a vicious circle, which is difficult to break and that would not be advisable in any case.


Recommended Reading:


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  • Bircher, Marisa, "Desafíos y oportunidades de las pymes en un mundo más complejo", entrevista realizada por Sol Narosky, El Cronista, 1° de octubre 2020.
  • Carciofi, Ricardo, "El programa de recuperación europea y nuestras exportaciones agroindustriales. Un análisis más allá del acuerdo con Europa", CIPPEC2, Octubre 2020.
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  • Schuman, Michael, "The Miracle. The Epic Story of Asia´s Quest for Wealth", HarperCollins, e-books 2009.
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  • Zakaria, Fareed, "Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World", W.W.Norton & Company, New York 2020.

Félix Peña Director of the Institute of International Trade at the ICBC Foundation. Director of the Masters Degree in International Trade Relations at Tres de Febrero National University (UNTREF). Member of the Executive Committee of the Argentine Council for International Relations (CARI). Member of the Evian Group Brains Trust. More information.

http://www.felixpena.com.ar | info@felixpena.com.ar


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