Under Secretary of Commerce For International Trade Francisco SÁnchez
AACCLA Annual Conference: Business Future of the Americas
New Strategies for Hemispheric Integration
Monday, June 13, 2011
As prepared for delivery
Buenas tardes a todos.
It’s very good to be back at AACCLA’s annual conference and to be here in beautiful Cartagena. I am honored to share this stage with leaders from industry and governments from around the Western Hemisphere. I’m also pleased to be joined by Ambassador McKinley and our superb Senior Commercial Officer, Maggie Hansen-Muse. The American business community in Colombia is in great hands with you two.
I’ve also had the pleasure of knowing President Uribe for many years and have admired his leadership in making Colombia economically more secure and economically vibrant. I am happy to see President Santos now leading Colombia. His leadership and commitment to the US-Colombia relationship have been on full display early in his presidency. I’m sorry that I’ll miss him tomorrow, but look forward to working with he and his team to strengthen the bonds of friendship and commerce between our countries.
I see a lot of familiar faces from last year’s gathering in Peru. To the AmCham Colombia team, Camilo, Anne, Ana Lucia, Diana, Carlos and Vicky and to the AACCLA leadership, in particular Juan Manuel, I’d like to thank you for inviting me back.
The theme of your conference is regional integration.
U.S. COMMITMENT IN THE FACE OF COMMON CHALLENGES
You already know that the United States is deeply committed to this cause not only because we would like to visit wonderful cities like Cartagena or Lima more often! It is because it is in our interest.
Taken as a whole, the United States exports three times as much to Latin America as we do to China. Beyond our common values, we enjoy significant bilateral trade relationships with most of the countries in the region. And, Latin America represents our fastest growing export market.
I believe that integration is essential for the decade that awaits us.
Now that does not mean it will happen without our working together. The challenges that can threaten the path to deeper integration are many; each present business and government leaders with difficult decisions that are compounding at an ever faster and more complex rate. They can come in the form of high unemployment or inflation, inequality in some cases or burdensome regulations in others or a combination of many factors.
And if these realities did not complicate matters enough, domestic politics can be contentious. So the importance of your theme cannot be understated.
While we confront a slow recovery in the United States, we understand that growth in Latin America presents tremendous opportunities for American businesses. The opportunities that you spend much of your time seeking on behalf of your businesses; the opportunities that my team around the world works tirelessly to increase; and the opportunities that have already yielded success for President Obama's National Export Initiative.
I am happy to report that after one year, we are well on pace to double U.S. exports. Exports were up 17% in 2010 compared to 2009. And in the first three months of 2011, they were up 15% compared to the first three months of 2010.
And while countries in Latin America are growing faster than many others, you understand that your economies must become diversified, nuanced systems that sustain long-term opportunities for your fellow citizens. Challenges like building a vibrant middle class, better infrastructure and stronger business climates. Challenges that if we don’t address today, may slow down the very opportunities we mutually seek to grow.
The United States has been working towards greater integration for much of the past two decades. We have opened markets with Mexico, Chile, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Central America.
Today, 84% of our trade within Latin America is covered by FTAs. So in the face of strong rhetoric on trade, the United States weighs its decisions thoughtfully before forging forward.
That’s why President Obama has made his commitment to the trade agreements with Panama and Colombia very clear. This is because he believes that the future of the United States is inextricably bound to the future of the people of the Americas. He is a man of his word.
In addition to these trade agreements, we are continuing to move forward on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which help bring out about even greater trade with Peru and Chile.
This March, President Obama travelled to Brazil, valuing the relationship with President Rousseff so deeply that he did not shorten his trip while dealing with a difficult situation unfolding in the Middle East.
Leaving Brazil with new cooperation agreements on areas like energy and the environment, President Obama headed to Santiago where he spoke of the economic models that have allowed countries like Chile, Peru, Panama and Colombia to grow so rapidly.
President Obama knows that integration goes deeper than economics. That is why he also announced a public-private partnership to increase the number of Latin American students studying in the U.S. to 100,000 and vice-versa.
YOUR COMMITMENT AND ITA's WORK
Since President Obama’s visit, I too have visited Brazil, once to attend the World Economic Forum in Rio de Janeiro and just last week for the U.S. Brazil Commercial Dialogue, which I have the privilege of co-chairing. The U.S. – Brazil Commercial Dialogue was established in 2006 to increase bilateral trade and investment. The Dialogue is tremendously successful deepening the engagement between the US and Brazil.
I have also traveled to El Salvador, soon after the President's visit, where we are committed to the Partnership for Growth to promote development in El Salvador. And I recently spoke at a Honduras investment conference that underscored that country's commitment to creating a strong investment climate, a goal the US government supports.
The common thread that weaves together my Department’s commitment to the business community is strengthening competitiveness in the region, so that we continue to be strong partners for each other and with for the world. We acknowledge that the issues are complex and take time to sort out. But, we believe there’s great value in spending time working through programs like Pathways to Prosperity build stronger cooperation.
Consider the 5th America’s Competitiveness Forum that will be held in the Dominican Republic in October. The ACF brings together the private sector, academia, and government leaders to share best practices for enhancing innovation and prosperity of our hemisphere. It is a modern blend of private and public cooperation, one of the opportunities that we can continue to embrace to strengthen integration.
Here’s one example of a problem we must work together to overcome: The World Bank reports that it takes an average of 20 days for goods to be imported into Latin America at a cost of $1,480 per container. And just consider that a $1 reduction in trade costs could increase exports by more than $1,000.
Obstacles like this clearly increase the cost of doing business. In fact, I was told it's easier to ship goods from Latin America to China, than it is across Latin America. Stronger integration means more efficient ways to move goods across boundaries.
Forums like the ACF and this gathering are rooted in the cause of deeper integration. And I hope we will continue to reap the benefits for many years to come.
So, there’s great reason to be optimistic as we gather today, but we must continue to work hard. In the United States, you have a committed partner. A partner's whose commitment is not only verbal but it is built into our government, a government who listens to the needs of our business community carefully.
That’s the essential building block behind achieving our common goals. This is why I’m so very hopeful we will overcome the obstacles that may arise. This is why I am confident that President Obama, working with the Congress, will see the trade agreements with Colombia and Panama enacted soon.
And, this is why I am confident in the opportunities that await you and your companies in this decade. Thank you, and thank you for your invitation. Muchas gracias.
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