Understanding Trump

BY Dr Kamal Monnoo

Pakistan must change tactics in the post Obama world

Well, in less than a month Mr. Trump is poised to become the most powerful man in the world and here in Pakistan we have a government and its foreign office still struggling to decipher how to constructively engage him. Being somewhat linked with the diplomatic corps, a couple of years back I remember advising a few friends in the foreign office (both career diplomats and political appointees in the present set-up) that global foreign affairs phenomenon is changing in that economic diplomacy nowadays is being conducted using an entrepreneurial touch and that we also need to quickly follow suit. Not only did the advice fall on deaf ears, but in return met with a rather condescending response implying that perhaps I was carrying some kind of a brief and that diplomacy is best left to bureaucratic professionals of the field – meaning, it is beyond the scope of the private sector! What these friends – still stuck in classical post World War II and Cold War diplomacy periods – failed to understand was that the ensuing global recession (post 2008 financial crisis event) was taking the people, across the world, towards a tipping point where personal survival takes precedence over lofty global principles. An economic environment where they rather we represented by someone who maximises national instead of global returns and one who presents short-term solutions rather than overly protecting yet to be born generations.

Today, this has happened.

Right from Brexit to Netherlands to Philippines to Greece to the victory of Mr. Trump in the USA, the foreign policies going forward will be defined mainly by national economic interests and led by people who themselves have practically been movers and shakers of respective economies.

Today, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs needs to take cognizance of this reality and draw out its own strategy to successfully deal with this takeover by the corporate sector of economic decision making in key economies of the world. It will be good to concede that dealing with private sector business leaders encompasses special expertise and therefore help will be required from its own private sector in using Pakistani entrepreneurs who in-turn understand the nuances of international business dealings. Further, it will no longer be business as usual. Going forward, the foreign office will have to shun standard practices in its dealings with the new US Administration in favor of adopting a rather business approach.

Prepare a Business Plan: There is a general sentiment (in all likelihood built by the media, establishment and subsequent governments) that Pakistan over the years has sacrificed a lot for the USA, but in return has been short-changed. True or otherwise, this mindset will have to change or left out when dealing with Trump’s administration, as only a professional business plan that tends to be a win-win for both sides will find traction. Previous transactions are history and in Trump’s doctrine, it is not an American problem if Pakistan sold its services under their true market value. If Pakistan feels that it has strategic value that is required by the U.S., then it is up to its leadership to package it commercially and market it in a way to extract maximum returns against it.

Chemistry is important: In the corporate world of management connecting socially and striking chemistry with the other side can often be critical to fruitful relations cum partnerships. Trump’s economic team is going to comprise mostly of people from the corporate world – Paul Atkins, a former member of the Securities & Exchange Commission who founded the consulting firm Patomak Global Partners LLC and currently playing the lead role in Trump’s team to formulate financial regulatory policy is tipped to be the next head of the Federal Reserve, the former Bear Stearns chief economist, David Malpass, is likely to run the White House office of management and budget, Gary Cohn, chief at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., is being considered as an economic advisor, and a host of leading corporate leaders are set to bag Ambassadorship posts to key global economies. To deal with such a corporate team and to successfully make inroads in this new emerging business face of the largest economy of the world, Pakistan must also choose corporate faces who not only hold deft skills in international deal making, but also deeply understand the subtle, confidential and trust-based nature of corporate working.

Understanding the Trump Trade Agenda: The mainstays of Trump’s trade strategy are to eliminate currency manipulation and special-interest provisions in existing trade agreements; industrial policies that seek to reward or punish businesses based on where they invest; to manage recovery; targeted and time-lined protectionist policies to restrict undesired trade; and to reduce the number of taxes and restrictions on domestic trade. The earlier Pakistan finds a way to work around the new mind set on how future trade will be conducted by the U.S., the better it will be for safeguarding Pakistan’s exports to its second largest market after the European Union.

Trump’s charm is not being Obama: Critics say that Obama was too blinded by his shibboleths, his own brand of political correctness, to let good things happen in a way that would let him take credit for them. He failed to lean over things that were working – like fracking, like corporate America’s steady effort to encourage more consumer involvement in disciplining health-care costs, which ObamaCare might have borrowed from. Trump on the other hand would like to dive straight into projects that embrace jobs and strengthens U.S. manufacturing even if they come at the expense of environment. The plan is to engineer US multinationals’ repeat of their global endeavors of the 60s & 70s. As and when this happens, Pakistan needs to be prepared to capitalize on this opportunity by engaging them to re-build a joint corporate platform that ultimately forms the basis of close future cooperation.

Personal interests matter: Like it or not, Trump’s pro-India rhetoric can be attributed to his personal business interests in India – A subconscious that triggers India-leaning owing to his lucrative connections with the place. So competing against such a bias will not be easy and would require an patient approach that constantly but tactfully points to elements of fair play, conflict-of-interest and objectivity when pushing Pakistan’s agenda in Washington. Luckily, India might be facing similar challenges to those being faced by China in grappling with the Trump trade agenda, and again it will be up to Pakistan’s leadership to ensure that this dichotomy for India is fully exploited!

Published in : Pakistan Today (December 15, 2016)

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