Under Secretary of Commerce For International Trade Francisco SÁnchez
Organization of American States
Private Sector Dialogue
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
As prepared for delivery
It’s a great pleasure to be here today with all of you.
I want to thank Jose Gestoso for that very kind introduction.
Allow me to also recognize Secretary General Insulza for his distinguished leadership and service.
And of course, I want to thank all those with the Organization of American States for your incredible work, for organizing this important dialogue, and for the invitation to join you today.
For me, this is an important conversation — both professionally and personally.
When I was 19 years old, I got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work in the Governor’s Office in Florida.
I started out as a travel aide and worked my way up. And after a few years, I was named the first director of Florida’s Caribbean Basin Initiative Program.
Our goals were simple:
- To strengthen our economic ties with our Caribbean neighbors; and
- Develop strategies to achieve mutually beneficial goals.
I mention all of this to emphasize that — for me — shaping a more competitive Western Hemisphere has been a lifelong mission. It’s a passion.
It’s work that I’ve been committed to for decades — both in the private and public sector.
And I’m glad to continue this work with you today, especially as part of this important conversation.
This morning, we have a unique opportunity to help shape an agenda.
The recommendations coming from this dialogue will serve as important input for the upcoming Summit of the Americas. Tomorrow, representatives from all countries will learn about your ideas and proposals.
Plus, this talk gives us another opportunity to voice our support for important initiatives like the Americas Competitiveness Forum and the Inter-American Competitiveness Network.
I’m confident our voices will be heard because good things happen when the private and public sector can come to the table, propose new bold ideas and identify ways to reach common goals.
And I’m glad we could come together today, especially at this critical moment in history.
On one hand, we’ve come a long way together.
Over the years, throughout the hemisphere democracy has spread, the gap between developed and developing countries is closing and the growth in many areas has been remarkable.
On the other hand, many challenges remain like poverty, inequality and inadequate schools.
So in this unique moment, we’ve got to build on the progress we’ve made by solving these challenges.
From our vantage point in the United State, the first step in this effort is to reaffirm how much we value our partners in the Western Hemisphere.
Today I repeat President Obama’s pledge to the Americas that: “The United States will be there as a friend and a partner … and we are committed to shaping a future through engagement that is based on mutual respect and equality.”
Through efforts like the Americas Competiveness Forum and the Summit of the Americas, we’ve been committed to honoring this pledge.
That’s because we are all in this together. We share geography. We share values. And we share strong cultural and economic ties.
So if nothing else, the message I want to leave you with today is that we are committed to this region. We want you, our partners, to succeed. Because when you succeed, we succeed.
As the Under Secretary for International Trade, I obviously have a vested interest in this partnership on behalf of U.S. businesses, specifically as it relates to trade.
Exports have been a key to our economic recovery and growth.
As many of you, President Obama launched the National Export Initiative two years ago this month. The goal is to double U.S. exports by the end of 2014.
Thus far we’ve achieved a lot. For example, last year, there were a record $2.1 trillion in U.S. exports.
And this success is having an impact on businesses, on the economy and on jobs.
In fact, just yesterday, the Commerce Department reported that 9.7 million American jobs were supported by exports in 2011, up 1.2 million since 2009.
So U.S. exports are making a positive difference here at home. They’re also making a difference throughout the Americas, where there is strong economic development.
U.S. goods and services are playing a part in this development. And we hope this will continue for years to come.
To make this happen, we’ve got to address the challenges preventing us from this goal.
Key among them is education. Sure, the problems in education are not a surprise to everyone here. But that doesn’t make the situation any less urgent.
And I want to spend a little extra time on it because, earlier today, I was at an event at Georgetown University where the focus was education in the hemisphere.
And it’s a timely discussion.
Our private sector partners tell us that there aren’t enough skilled workers in the Western Hemisphere to meet the demand.
They are telling us that the schools in Latin America and the Caribbean are falling short in producing students that can create, produce and innovate in the workplace.
And that causes a lot of problems. It’s a problem for workers.
They’re finding it harder and harder to succeed in the 21st century economy with their 20th century skills.
It’s a problem for businesses.
Without a skilled workforce, no business can maximize its potential.
And it’s a problem for the Western Hemisphere as a whole. The most valuable asset we have is people. They are the innovators. They supply the hard work needed to turn ideas into quality products and services.
They are the engines behind economic growth. And the simple truth is that this region can’t be competitive if so many people are being shut out.
We need to fill the vacuum in Latin America and the Caribbean that’s been created by the lack of institutions like community colleges and vocational schools.
And at Georgetown, bringing together representatives from academia, the non-profit sector, government, and the private sector was an important step in making the Americas more competitive.
But it can’t be our only step.
Even if there was a completely skilled-workforce, we’ve got to ensure that the playing field is level for all businesses. We’re proud to have more Free Trade Agreements in the Western Hemisphere than anywhere else in the world.
We’re obviously happy that the trade agreements with Panama and Colombia passed last year. Both are sure to make a big difference when they take effect.
But we can and must do more. One thing all governments in the Americas can do is forcefully protect intellectual property rights.
How can entrepreneurs fully commitment themselves to innovating if they think their ideas will be stolen? The short answer is — they can’t.
I would urge all of us to make a renewed commitment the protection of copyrights, patents and trademarks. Without these measures, the region can’t reach its full potential.
One final area I want to focus on is increasing supply chain competitiveness. As we all know, there are incredible opportunities in this space across the Western Hemisphere.
For example, in aerospace, the launch of new projects, such as Bombardier’s C Series jetliner, can create new opportunities for U.S. firms to participate in a supply chain worth billions of dollars.
In this case, the supply chain starts in Canada, goes through the United States and ends up in Mexico creating opportunities for companies along the way.
And in the auto industry, there is plenty of potential. For example to make GM cars, some auto parts cross the border as much as seven times before final assembly.
The bottom line: behind so many of the great products we see on the marketplace is a supply chain of parts from the Americas.
And, to ensure that they are as competitive as possible, the Americas have to work together.
Unfortunately, right now, inadequate infrastructure is causing delays. Unnecessary red tape and policy impediments are dramatically slowing the movement of goods.
This means lost sales and lost opportunities. And when parts from another country don’t arrive on time, production in another country suffers.
We can’t afford to lose any ground in the global economy. So we’ve got to work together to address these issues.
On our end, last November, Commerce Secretary Bryson and I announced the formation of an Advisory Committee on Supply Chain Competitiveness.
It aims to address these issues And we look forward to working with you on this area, and many more.
When it comes to increasing the competitiveness of the Americas, we’ve got a lot of work to do.
But it must be done. And it must be done by all of us — together.
We have mutual interests and a mutual goal of making the Western Hemisphere more conducive to business success.
This requires educating young people with the 21st century skills needed to succeed in the 21st century economy.
This requires protecting Intellectual Property Rights to encourage innovation.
And it requires removing all the unnecessary obstacles that prevent our businesses from being efficient and fully productive.
Today’s discussion is an important step towards addressing these goals.
And I want to leave you with the message I gave earlier: The United States is firmly committed to the Western Hemisphere.
We are eager to build on the progress we’ve achieved.
And I look forward to working with many of you to sharpen our competitive edge, generate growth for all our businesses and support jobs for all our peoples.
Once again, thank you to the Organization of American States for putting together this important dialogue.
Enjoy the rest of the conversation.
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