Meridian Exchange | August 2020

The pandemic is disrupting international communities, highlighting the cracks in the system and redefining the role of diplomacy for global leaders. Over the past several months we’ve seen U.S. citizens take to the streets in protest, work to combat the spread of a deadly virus and switch business models overnight. Through more than 70 programs over the last 19 weeks, Meridian has brought together the best global thinkers and leaders to understand the short-term and long-term implications of these evolving global challenges and work together to find shared solutions. Read this month's highlights below.

Rethinking U.S. diplomacy

Continued advancement of American diplomacy is vital to managing U.S. foreign relationships, but even senior diplomats understand that the nature of diplomacy is changing. "There’s been a recognition that the diplomatic channel is not the channel through which all American engagement happens,” Meridian President & CEO Ambassador Stuart Holliday said in a recent Economist piece, acknowledging the increasing role of the private sector in diplomacy – what Meridian calls commercial diplomacy. Back in 2015, the American Academy of Diplomacy warned that the U.S. foreign service was in trouble due to increased politicization, poor professional education and an outdated career structure— and the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t helped. However, efforts are underway to find solutions and push reform. Read more on the suggested changes here.

The future of EU-U.S. trade relations

Overcoming barriers to trade could pave the way for further cooperation in several global arenas. On July 15, the Meridian Corporate Council hosted a Global Business Briefing with Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Trade, and MEP Bernd Lange, Chairman of the European Parliament's International Committee. The discussion centered on the future of EU-U.S. trade relations amid the pandemic, efforts to improve transatlantic cooperation, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General selection process. Key barriers to successful trade negotiations between the U.S. and EU include frictions over industry regulations, aircraft subsidies and, of course, taxes. Despite these obstacles, Congressman Blumenauer and MEP Lange agreed that opportunities exist to form mutual understanding and strategies for common goals. In response to COVID-19, several countries around the world imposed export bans on PPE, citing concerns over domestic supply. Congressman Blumenauer added that governments should not use PPE export restrictions as a justification for failures to plan and prepare for the crisis properly. Read more here.

The good and bad of digital diplomacy

Video conferencing platforms have made face-to-face interaction possible during a global pandemic, but apps like Zoom come with their own challenges. On July 23, Stephane Dujarric, Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, kicked off a panel discussion on virtual diplomacy with Meridian Rising Leaders Council members Gerry Diaz Bartolome, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Argentina; Hreinn Palsson, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Iceland; Kezia McKeague, Director, Latin America Practice, McLarty Associates; and moderator Ben Chang, Deputy Vice President for Communications & Spokesperson for Princeton University and a former U.S. diplomat. Dujarric says the UN is concerned about the progress of sustainable development goals due to the impacts of the pandemic, citing gaps in access to online learning, climate change response, information sharing and relationship building. “Zoom can give a false sense of transparency,” Dujarric asserted, noting setbacks for high-level and sensitive affairs. “The personal meeting is key,” Bartolome said, but added that embassies have successfully transitioned to virtual operations and shifted cultural programming online, allowing them to reach a wider international audience. Read more here.

Ambassador Kelly Craft on a virtual UN General Assembly

COVID-19 affects international relations at every level, but hasn’t managed to stall global engagement. On July 30, Meridian hosted its latest  Insights@Meridian discussion with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft. In conversation with Ambassador Stuart Holliday, Ambassador Craft discussed the UN’s shift to virtual and top U.S. priorities for the upcoming 75th session of the UN General Assembly, where President Trump will likely be the only head of state addressing the assembly in person. The UN Ambassadors have unique roles among the diplomatic corps as they simultaneously engage hundreds of countries at a time. In the virtual era, Ambassador Craft navigates this nuance by developing bilateral relationships with fellow Ambassadors and finding creative ways to bring partners together. Craft added that she hopes to continue this virtual engagement at the General Assembly, using the digital space to amplify the discussion of human rights issues, transparency and accountability. Read more here.

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