Remarks by Under Secretary Lago - August 22, 2022

Intercontinental Costa Rica, San Jose, Costa Rica 
August 22, 2022

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Deputy Assistant Secretary Saunders, for that kind introduction.  

Minister Tovar, thank you for joining us today, and for your enthusiastic support for this event.  

My thanks as well to Ambassador Telles for her warm hospitality.

Many of you already heard from me last evening, so I will skip the niceties and dive right into substance.

My responsibilities are global—within 72 hours of returning to Washington, DC from Costa Rica, I will be leaving for Indonesia and Thailand. So why am I here today along with Deputy Assistant Secretary Saunders?

We are helping to advance President Biden’s commitment to building a sustainable, resilient, and equitable future across the Americas. Of course, this commitment extends well beyond the U.S. borders, and we celebrate the fact that Costa Rica has doubled down on efforts to combat climate change, conserve resources, protect wild places, and achieve sustainable growth—Pura Vida indeed. Building on decades of green innovation, Costa Rica has committed to decarbonizing its economy by 2050, a goal that President Biden has also set for the United States. And I know that the U.S. private sector stands ready to help Costa Rica meet this ambitious commitment, in particular through our cutting edge clean technologies. Together, we can demonstrate that what is best for our planet can also drive equitable growth, successful businesses and good-paying jobs.   

At the U.S. Department of Commerce, to support a sustainable recovery in the region and improve business prospects for U.S. firms, we are prioritizing work across three key pillars—competitiveness, transparency and security.  

First, competitiveness, which lies at the core of the Biden-Harris Administration’s economic agenda, both at home and abroad. At home, we are driving crucial investments in our workforce, businesses, infrastructure, and communities to better compete—and win—abroad. This includes diversifying our supply chains, revitalizing U.S. manufacturing, accelerating the shift to clean energy, expanding investments in research and development, and preparing our workers to meet the demands of a modern, tech-driven economy. 

It also means expanding our pool of exporters and ensuring that the benefits of exporting reach more broadly, including through the Department of Commerce’s Global Diversity Export Initiative (GDEI), which aims to promote international opportunities and trade resources to historically underserved communities. 

To support U.S. economic competitiveness abroad, we are focused on deepening and strengthening business partnerships with countries across the globe, ensuring open and fair markets through rigorous enforcement of our trade agreements.

For U.S. businesses and workers to compete on a level playing field, they need fair and consistent rules. This foundation already exists in parts of Central America through free trade agreements, which are present in most of the markets represented here. Beyond just lowering tariffs, these agreements facilitate strong working relationships and build trust between countries.  

The next pillar of our approach in Central America is transparency. Whether in access, procurement or regulation, transparency helps to ensure that markets are not just attractive for their export potential, but also are good places to do business.  We are working hard to improve the commercial landscape for fair competition across the region by promoting ethical business practices, advocating for better policy decisions, and helping develop more transparent government processes. This is a particular focus of mine in the bilateral, government to government meetings that I held last week in Honduras and will hold today in Costa Rica.  

Our final pillar in the region is security. We are committed to partnering with both the public and private sectors to improve public safety, border security and digital security in the region. I would also add that our approach takes a broad view of what constitutes “security,” extending to economic security, which includes developing resilient and diversified supply chains, and energy security, which includes the global imperative to combat the climate crisis. Here, too, we are focused on teaming with public and private sector partners in the region to ensure integrity and resilience, especially in the face of malign influences from countries that do not share our democratic values. 

I am proud that the Department of Commerce’s approach to Central America is robust and is always focused on achieving results for U.S. businesses and their workers. But the Commerce Department’s programs, policies and services represent just one piece of what the U.S. Government has to offer—and the Commerce Department’s tools are far more effective when deployed in concert with an interagency team that shares our commitment to expanding mutual economic opportunities in Central America. 

I want to recognize my colleagues from other U.S. agencies, especially the State Department, EXIM and USTDA. I encourage you to seek out their expertise and resources, including financing for critical infrastructure projects, funding for feasibility studies, or even participating in a reverse trade mission to the United States.  

In fact, today USTDA is taking concrete steps to strengthen our commercial ties here, announcing that it will fund technical assistance to support the development of a power control center for Costa Rica’s State Utility, ICE. 

Further, to support Costa Rica’s rail sector, USTDA will fund a reverse trade mission to the United States to introduce Costa Rican representatives to U.S. technology solutions and best practices related to passenger and freight rail modernization. We are excited about these announcements. Thank you, USTDA. 

To our U.S. businesses that made the journey, your hard work during this visit will yield new partnerships and opportunities. The resources, connections and insights that you gain this week will underpin stronger, more equitable and more sustainable economic growth—here in Central America and at home in your communities across the United States. I encourage you to take advantage of every minute of unparalleled access to partners and decisionmakers in these crucial Central American markets. Our International Trade Administration team based across six regional markets will support you every step of the way, and we are eager to see what you accomplish this week. 

I will reiterate my thanks to our muy amable Costa Rican hosts. And I wish you all a successful Trade Mission and Conference. Thank you.