|Panelist in the conference’s third plenary session discuss economics and trade. -- VMI Photo by Kevin Remington.
LEXINGTON, Va., March 24, 2011 – The coming of the 21st century has shifted the focus in world trade from an American view to a global one, said VMI alumnus Robert Troxler ’63. He added that it is essential that the leaders of tomorrow learn how to meet the challenges of this shift in focus as well as how to benefit from the new global view.
Troxler moderated a panel discussion on economics and trade at the “East Meets West” conference at the Virginia Military Institute’s Center for Leadership and Ethics. A founding partner of an investment advisory firm based in Geneva, Troxler has lived throughout the world and has managed investments for clients large and small in Europe and the Middle East in his former role with Citibank/Citigroup.
Troxler said the United States cannot ignore the issues of oil and gas dependency, and reliable supplies, he feels, are more precarious than many think. He added that the threat posed by Iran in conjunction with the oil and gas issue and how the United States handles the regime change in Egypt are other issues that need attention. On a more positive note, he said there is $1.3 trillion in sovereign wealth in the Middle East that can be used to invest in jobs and improving education, which are great needs in many countries in the region.
“For me, the key is to help these countries help themselves,” he said. “We need to work with and through the leaders in each country and to respect the integrity of the countries involved. We cannot come in and offer our solutions.”
Panelist John Sullivan, executive director of the Center for International Private Enterprise, affirmed Troxler’s suggestion that the United States must provide guidance, not solutions to the economic challenges in the region. His organization works to strengthen democracy around the globe through private enterprise and market-oriented reform.
The neoclassical method of economics applies in developed countries, but that model doesn’t always hold true in nondemocratic countries, he said.
“The man who set himself on fire in Tunis symbolizes desperation,” he said. “Between 30 and 50 percent of people in the Tunisian economy are locked in an informal system. There are no property rights and there is no protection nor legal standing for entrepreneurs.”
Sullivan added that until the business atmosphere improves and systems are put in place, it will be difficult to attract foreign investment.
“One of the first things we try to do is to introduce corporate governance,” said Sullivan. “There aren’t words for that term in Arabic, and if you can’t say it, you can’t do it. ‘Business innovators’ is a term we’re trying to develop, as well.”
Panelist Mark Mowrey is deputy assistant U.S. trade representative for Eurasia and the Middle East at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. During his time at USTR, he has been active in formulating trade policy positions affecting the Europe, Eurasian, and Middle East regions and has led or participated in negotiations and consultations involving countries such as Morocco, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates.
His organization was making strides in the 1990s but hit a plateau at the end of the decade and has been hindered by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2011.
“We need to find a new way to work in the region,” said Mowrey. “If you can get people invested in their future, you can get them away from extremist ideals.”
His organization doesn’t take the ‘white knight’ approach but provides advice when sought and serves as a partner, not a helper. He added that the change in regime in Egypt and unrest in other countries in the region makes his job challenging. As leaders change, the USTR must begin its role anew and each country must be dealt with individually.