Under Secretary of Commerce For International Trade Francisco SÁnchez
"Making Latin America and the Caribbean a More Equitable Society: Education, Economic Growth, and Corporate Social Responsibility"
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
As prepared for delivery
I can’t think of a better way to start the day than by talking about strengthening partnerships, increasing opportunities and enhancing competitiveness.
As the first day of this conference proved, good things happen when different interests come together to exchange ideas and experiences. And I’m happy to be here on this second day to help keep the conversation going.
Allow me to begin by thanking Dr. DeGioia for that kind introduction, and for his leadership and service.
I’d also like to recognize all those who worked tirelessly to put this event together:
- my colleagues at the Commerce Department;
- our friends at the State Department;
- and Georgetown University.
This is a great setting to hold this important discussion. And I look forward to our talk today.
We come together at a pivotal moment. Things are moving quickly in this 21st century economy.
Tom Friedman from The New York Times has a book out about competitiveness.
And, he’s got this great passage about how just a few years ago:
- Facebook didn’t exist;
- Twitter was a sound;
- “the cloud” was something in the sky;
- 4G was a parking place;
- LinkedIn was a prison;
- Applications were things you sent to college;
- And, Skype was a typo.
Now all these things are a reality in our daily lives. It’s this kind of technology that has brought the Western Hemisphere closer together than ever before.
On one hand, this is an opportunity. We can collaborate easier and more often.
On the other hand, big change brings big challenges. The global economy is rapidly evolving.
There is an increasing demand for workers who are proficient in science, technology, engineering and math.
But our private sector partners tell us there aren’t enough skilled workers to meet this demand. They tell 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 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 entire Western Hemisphere. People are our most valuable assets.
They are the source of innovation. They supply the hard work needed to turn ideas into products and services. They are the engines behind economic growth.
And this region cannot be competitive if so many people are being shut out.
So the bottom line is pretty simple: the Western Hemisphere of tomorrow depends on how we educate today.
Enhancing our education system will help raise incomes, expand the middle class and spread opportunity.
From our vantage point in the United States: we want you to succeed because you are friends, partners and neighbors.
Secretary of State Clinton once called this the “power of proximity.”
The financial crisis showed how linked we are. We all suffered together. And now we must succeed together.
I want to let all of you know that we’re doing our part to be a strong partner for you.
The United States is in the midst of an economic recovery. And U.S. exports have been a key to this recovery.
As many of you know, President Obama launched the National Export Initiative two years ago this month.
His goal was to double U.S. exports by the end of 2014. Thus far, we’ve achieved a lot.
Last year, there were a record $2.1 trillion in U.S. exports. Exports comprised nearly 14% of GDP — another record.
But I’m not focused on records. I’m focused on impact.
And exports are making 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.
This is up 1.2 million since 2009.
So as I said earlier, exports are making a positive impact for people here in the States.
But I’m also proud that this impact isn’t just confined to our borders. Throughout the Americas, there is strong economic development. U.S. goods and services are playing a part in this development.
We firmly support this growth. And we hope it will continue for years to come. It’s a win-win situation for all parties.
And there is clearly potential to do so much more. That’s especially true now that the Trade Agreements with Panama and Colombia passed last year.
We are in this unique moment. Now we’ve just got to take advantage of it.
That’s why this conversation about education is so important. Education is a primary tool to promote relationships within the hemisphere and to target poverty and inequality.
And in this day and age, there’s got to be a special emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math.
Take Chile, for example.
Its Economic Development Agency wants to grow its IT sector into a $5 billion industry by 2015. But the country only graduates 1400 engineers a year.
And as this IT sector grows, I’m sure that companies will be looking for more skilled Chilean workers to support their expansion.
Another example is Brazil.
It will need a skilled workforce to develop its pre-salt oil reserves off the coast.
That’s why I’m sure Petrobras executives are very happy with President Rousseff's “Science Without Borders program”, giving Brazilian students the chance to learn in American classrooms.
A workforce without STEM skills is a workforce that can’t compete.
In recognition of this, the Obama Administration has launched a number of efforts to increase access to a quality education.
For example, here in America in 2010, the President launched the “Change the Equation” initiative. It’s led by more than 100 CEO’s — and the goal is to improve STEM education.
At the time he launched it, American 15-year-olds ranked 21st in science and 25th in math compared to other countries.
And this initiative is going a long way to reverse this trend. It’s making a difference. It’s just the kind of work that has been the focus of this conference, which is why I’m so optimistic about this conversation.
Another one of the President’s efforts I want to recognize is his goal of “100,000 Strong in the Americas.” I’m sure this was mentioned yesterday. But it’s worth mentioning again.
The goal is to increase the number of American students studying in Latin America and the Caribbean to 100,000.
In turn, we hope that 100,000 students from these regions decide to study in the United States.
It’s a program that provides benefits, both in the short-term and the long-term.
In the short-term, visiting students give a boost to local economies across the region.
After all, students pay rent. They shop at local stores. They eat at local restaurants.
And in the long term, this program is equipping more young people with the STEM skills they need to succeed.
Plus, there is also the education that you can’t get from a textbook:
- exposure to other cultures and customs;
- a deeper understanding of the Western Hemisphere; and
- an enhanced global view which will prepare these students for success in the global economy.
These are important initiatives.
And they add to a number of great efforts already involving private and public partners.
Some quick examples.
The Microsoft program — Supérate — provides after-school training in computer sciences in El Salvador.
The U.S. and Brazil have partnered with the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to develop beam-energy propulsion.
One final example: the University of Maryland Smith School of Business, and multiple universities in Uruguay, have forged partnerships with companies to help firms in exporting and investing in the individual countries.
These partnerships bolster public-private sector cooperation and promote hemispheric cooperation — as does student exchanges.
And we continue to ask the private sector to support exchange programs, finance scholarships and offer internships, training and mentoring for exchange students.
However, it’s also important for us in the public sector to ask something of ourselves.
We too have to play a part in making the Americas competitive. For example, we’ve got to remain firmly committed to protecting Intellectual Property Rights.
An unskilled workforce isn’t the only obstacle to innovation and creativity. If rights aren’t protected, then companies won’t have an incentive to put their best ideas out there. Then this region can’t be competitive.
Companies need to know that their ideas and products won’t be stolen. So there needs to be a firm, broad effort — from all governments — to protect Intellectual Property Rights.
In addition, all governments must work in concert to remove any unnecessary regulations and red tape that hurt businesses.
These kinds of delays hurt efficiency. And they often hinder companies from seizing opportunities in a timely manner, hurting our overall competitiveness.
And in the end, this is the opposite of what we want.
What we do want is to come together as neighbors, partners and friends.
What we do want is to pave a path to prosperity wide enough for everyone to get ahead.
What we do want is to give businesses every chance to succeed by:
- expanding opportunity;
- increasing efficiency;
- fostering sustainable growth;
- working in partnership; and
- by supporting education.
As part of this work, the Department of Commerce will be leading an education trade mission to Brazil later this year.
And of course, today’s conversation goes a long way in supporting education as well.
I look forward to continuing this dialogue at the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Colombia in April.
I appreciate this chance to share a few thoughts.
And I thank you very much.
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