Remarks by Under Secretary Lago at the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (GWHCC) Embassy Dinner Series - February 1

Washington, DC
February 1, 2024

As Prepared for Delivery

Good evening, everyone. Muy buenas noches a todas y muchísimas gracias, Nicole, for your warm welcome, and for inviting me to speak this evening. It’s my special pleasure to recognize Ambassador Sonia Guzmán of the Dominican Republic, the Honorary Chair of tonight’s fantastic event.

It’s a tremendous honor to address such esteemed business leaders and ambassadors, representing countries across las Americas and around the world. I’m thrilled to be here, as we reinforce the connections among the region’s foremost leaders and the vibrant Hispanic business community across the greater D.C. area.

As the proud child of Spanish immigrants, I know how profoundly we share ties across the many countries represented here tonight — through language, culture and familia.

And, of course, these ties are strengthened by equitable, sustainable trade and investment.

Expanding economic opportunity has been central to my career, bringing me to the organization that I now lead, the International Trade Administration (or ITA) at the U.S. Department of Commerce. At ITA, our ultimate goal is to boost equitable, sustainable and inclusive economic prosperity by enhancing the competitiveness of U.S. businesses.

With over 2,000 trade and business experts located in over 100 U.S. municipalities and 80 international markets, our ITA team supports and promotes U.S. businesses that are already exporting, as well as those that are considering their first exports. But, we do much more.

In addition to promoting U.S. exports, we also attract foreign direct investment into the United States, growing jobs and economic opportunities here at home. And we work tirelessly to level the playing field for U.S. businesses and workers by defending against unfair trade practices around the globe.

Equity is at the core of our efforts — serving all U.S. businesses, regardless of size and across a wide array of sectors, and ensuring that the benefits of trade are broadly shared.

That’s why we launched our Global Diversity Export Initiative in 2022 — to concentrate resources on businesses in historically overlooked or underappreciated communities, including in our nation’s Hispanic communities.

Under our Building Bridges to Global Markets program, we meet potential exporters in their own communities, including in Los Angeles, San Diego y San Juan. We bring ITA’s experts, along with a full suite of services, to meet micro and small business owners’ diverse needs, connecting them to new opportunities across international markets.

I’m particularly proud of our webinar series called “Exportando a Casa”, which is focused on the large, vibrant Latin American diaspora in the United States.

Another example: In just one month, ITA will be leading a trade mission to Colombia, Costa Rica and Panama — comprised of businesses that are led by women. It will be only our second-ever trade mission focused on women-owned businesses, and our first to the region.

Here in the D.C. area, we have a U.S. Department of Commerce Export Assistance Center specifically serving U.S. exporters in D.C. and Virginia. If you haven’t already, I highly encourage you to meet our team — led by April Redmon, who’s also here tonight. April and her team can share more about the many opportunities and targeted services that we offer to businesses — of any size and across a wide array of sectors — whether they’re already exporting or are just curious about whether to export.

We also work closely with our foreign government counterparts, including many of you here today, to advocate for an enabling legal environment that is attractive to businesses.

The Americas, in particular, remain a top priority for the Department of Commerce. As many of you know, the United States trades more with countries in this region than anywhere else in the world. And for over two-thirds of the countries in the Western Hemisphere, the United States is your top trading partner.

We value these relationships and do not take them lightly, knowing that we have to nurture them year after year. Part of that is continuing to have frequent interactions.

For example, this past year, Secretary Raimondo traveled to Mexico for the North American Leaders Summit, the North American Semiconductor Forum and the U.S.-Mexico High Level Economic Dialogue.

She also traveled to Brazil to co-lead the U.S.-Brazil CEO Forum, as well as to Panama to discuss supply chain resilience.

For my part, since joining ITA just about two years ago, I’ve traveled to five countries in the region so far: Brazil (twice!), Costa Rica (also twice!), Chile, El Salvador and Honduras.

And that’s in addition to a steady stream of bilateral meetings and events with representatives of Western Hemisphere governments and businesses that take place here in Washington — like tonight’s important event.

ITA’s work across the region spans a broad array of priorities. We’re focusing on eliminating trade barriers and countering coercive influences. We’re advocating for more transparent business practices, and we’re deepening cooperation across essential sectors.

For example, on information and communications technology, we’re working with partners across the region to build secure and trusted networks, while helping expand connectivity to even more communities.

In fact, strengthening cooperation on information technology (IT) was the guiding theme of my visit to Costa Rica and El Salvador last November. In today’s digital economy, we know that IT security is absolutely essential to our nations’ economic security, which is an integral part of our national security.

And that’s why in both countries we shared best practices to improve cybersecurity, to secure data flows across our borders, to build diverse supply chains and to support the development of future technologies. In fact, Costa Rica will soon be home to a regional Center of Excellence, under the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity. This Center of Excellence will prepare workers across the region for the technology jobs of the future — including in the fields of semiconductors, cybersecurity, 5G and artificial intelligence.

And, speaking of Costa Rica, congratulations to Ambassador Crespo on last week’s decision by Costa Rica’s Constitutional Court to uphold that country’s cybersecurity decree. We’re proud to support Costa Rica’s commitment to pursue secure solutions for its telecommunications infrastructure.

ITA has also been working closely with Canada and Mexico to strengthen supply chain resilience, particularly for semiconductors. Our three governments organized the first North American Semiconductor Conference here in D.C. last May, deepening our collaboration with the private sector and academia across research and development, workforce training and supply chain investments.

Another priority for ITA is supporting our hemispheric partners as they build the secure and modern infrastructure that is needed for resilient supply chains. We do this by connecting our hemispheric partners that are pursuing major infrastructure projects with the latest in innovative U.S. goods, technologies and services.

For example, in December, one of ITA’s Assistant Secretaries traveled to Barranquilla, Colombia for a Latin American conference hosted by the American Association of Port Authorities — an event that I had attended the year before in Santos, Brazil. ITA hosted a session in which U.S. companies shared the latest on security, digital and clean technologies that can modernize ports across the region. ITA participated in this conference as part of our “Go Green and Blue” initiative, which promotes clean technologies and sustainable supply chains across ports and maritime industries.

ITA is also keenly focused on supporting our hemispheric partners by introducing them to innovative U.S. companies that offer climate and clean energy solutions to meet their nations’ Paris Agreement goals. Specifically, we’re ensuring that our partner nations have access to the latest U.S. climate technologies, data, standards and expertise.

One way that we do this is through our U.S.-Brazil Clean Energy Industry Dialogue, which ITA co-leads alongside our colleagues at the U.S. Department of Energy. We also continue to work across the federal government on the U.S.-Caribbean Partnership to Address the Climate Crisis 2030.

And, we look forward to working with Brazil as it prepares to host the UN Climate Conference (COP29) in 2025.

Finally, recognizing the COVID pandemic’s tremendous impact on our region’s economies and health systems, I’ll end by sharing what ITA is doing to support our hemispheric partners in the health sector.

At the 2022 Summit of the Americas, the Department of Commerce launched Americas RISE for Health, a multi-sector forum to harness the collective strengths of the region’s private sector and civil society to build stronger health systems. Across six pillars, this annual forum focuses on trade and investment, regulatory improvements, sustainable health systems, ethics, equity and inclusivity, and digital health. I’m especially proud to chair the RISE initiative’s Steering Committee, and we’re excited to be holding the next RISE leadership meeting this March in la República Dominicana.

Let me close tonight by emphasizing that ITA cannot achieve our mission alone. We count on the support of the private sector and diplomatic community — all of you — to partner with us on the momentous challenges and opportunities that we collectively face.

The governments and organizations that you represent are vital to our shared goal of improving the lives of our communities. I look forward to working together even more closely to continue building a more prosperous, equitable and sustainable future across the Americas.

¡Mil gracias!