WEF Latin America shines development spotlight on the region

World Economic Forum Latin America co-chairs kick off the conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Photo by: Amy Lieberman/Devex

Latin America is routinely sidelined from major forums and discussions on global development and international affairs, leading economists, academics and politicians said at the formal kick-off of the World Economic Forum in Latin America.

But this year’s annual two-day forum in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is offering an opportunity for the region — and the host country, emerging from a prolonged economic recession — to temporarily step into the spotlight.

“The world offers more doubts today than it does certainties,” said Argentine President Mauricio Macri during his remarks at the forum’s morning plenary session. “Argentina was isolated for many years. All that brought was poverty. Our youth wants to be integrated. The way to go is integration into the world. Intelligent dialogue — that is the path to growth and quicker, faster development.”

Macri opened his speech with a joke about the widespread 24-hour workers’ strike, protesting low wages, which brought the city and much of the country to a halt as the forum began. “How good it is to be here working,” he said.

However, Latin America overall — the most unequal region in the world — is expected to return to positive growth in 2017. But some experts bemoaned the region’s lack of political visibility with the United States and President Donald Trump.

“We seem to have disappeared from the USA's debate. Except from Mexico, the rest of Latin America does not seem to exist ... we must not wait to see what Trump decides to say, or what he tweets the next day," said Felipe Larraín Bascuñán, professor and director of the Latin American Center for Economic and Social Policy, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.

​The Americas’ diversity makes it “no longer possible” to speak about Latin America as a whole,” said Daniel Zovatto, the region director of Latin America and Caribbean, of the International Institute for Democracy and Caribbean, speaking at a morning event on the region’s challenges.

Yet a few common trends and lines of discussion emerged from the first few discussions.

A need for diversification in trade is key for Latin America to continue to grow, as is an investment in talented immigrants, strong education systems, infrastructure and country partnerships.

“We’re taking positive measures so Argentina can be trustworthy for countries worldwide ... We need to work as a team. And in most Latin American countries there are many internal problems that make [this] difficult,” said Argentinian businessman and billionaire Alejandro Bulgheroni.  

For everything you need to know about the World Economic Forum on Latin America, follow our coverage this week and join the conversation on Latin America's future. Follow @devex, @kellierin, @amylieberman and @raj_devex and tag #la17 and #wef.

About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the U.N. Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.