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Improving Competitiveness through Innovation and Cooperation

Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez welcomed more than 900 participants, including the presidents of Colombia, Guatemala, and El Salvador, to the Americas Competitiveness Forum 2008, which highlighted innovative methods for achieving economic competitiveness throughout the Western Hemisphere.

by Peter Bowman

On August 17–19, 2008, Carlos M. Gutierrez, secretary of commerce, and Shirley Franklin, mayor of Atlanta, Georgia, welcomed more than 900 participants to the second annual Americas Competitiveness Forum (ACF 2008). ACF 2008 highlighted innovative methods to achieve economic competitiveness from national, regional, and local perspectives.

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Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez (second from right) joined (from left) President Antonio Saca of El Salvador, President Alvaro Colom of Guatemala, Mayor Shirley Franklin of Atlanta, and President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia at the Americas Competitiveness Forum 2008 on August 17, 2008.
Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez (second from right) joined (from left) President Antonio Saca of El Salvador, President Alvaro Colom of Guatemala, Mayor Shirley Franklin of Atlanta, and President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia at the Americas Competitiveness Forum 2008 on August 17, 2008. The forum provided more than 900 participants information on trade and investment opportunities within the Western Hemisphere. (U.S. Department of Commerce photo)


President George W. Bush envisioned the creation of the ACF after the Summit of the Americas in November 2005, where he discussed ways to create jobs, to fight poverty, and to promote economic prosperity in the Americas. Although many countries in the region have enacted significant reforms and experienced solid economic growth during the past several years, the ACF was designed to deepen cooperation on competitiveness among the 34 democratically elected governments in the Western Hemisphere.

ACF 2008 also provided businesses a platform to learn about and to take advantage of trade and investment opportunities. Senior commercial officers from throughout the hemisphere were on hand to meet with U.S. businesses and to conduct one-on-one export counseling sessions. The International Trade Administration facilitated approximately 200 meetings between the businesses and governments at ACF 2008.

Twenty-six of the 34 democratically elected governments sent high-level government delegations. Presidents Alvaro Uribe of Colombia, Alvaro Colom of Guatemala, and Antonio Saca of El Salvador participated in the event, as well as Vice President Jaime Morales of Nicaragua. More than 25 ministers responsible for economic and competitiveness issues, including ministers of trade, commerce, science and technology, and education, also attended ACF 2008.

Business Alliances, Energy, Trade, and Travel Highlighted

The forum highlighted four key program areas: alliances in business and education, renewable energy and sustainable resources, trade logistics, and travel and tourism.

The alliances in business and education track focused on identifying creative, flexible partnership models between governments, industry, and the academic community. The renewable energy and sustainable resources track highlighted opportunities in the renewable and alternative energy sector that are key to creating greater energy security and economic competitiveness. The trade logistics track emphasized the importance of logistics to trade and growth. The travel and tourism track underscored appropriate sustainable practices, infrastructure, and policies to support each country’s tourism development initiatives. In addition to the four main program tracks, regional market opportunity sessions provided attendees a chance to learn about doing business in each of the countries in the Western Hemisphere.

Continuing the Conversation

The ACF is an ongoing initiative. It will continue to provide a venue for government ministers from the Western Hemisphere to come together with leaders from the private sector, academia, and non-governmental organizations to explore cutting-edge ideas and best practices in several key areas of competitiveness. One notable outcome of ACF 2008 was a commitment by the participating countries to continue cooperating on economic issues.

Other ACF outcomes include (a) increased trade and investment opportunities for attendees, (b) the Western Hemisphere textiles/apparel cooperation to promote further growth in the region’s textiles and apparel trade (see sidebar), and (c) the Latin American Small Business Initiative to help small businesses take advantage of trade opportunities in the Western Hemisphere.

Meeting the Global Marketplace Challenge

The region must strategically rise to the challenge of an increasingly global and competitive marketplace. Leaders of the public and private sectors must implement policies that expand opportunities for innovators and entrepreneurs who bring new ideas, technology, and capital.

“Making everyone equal by making everyone poor is not a big, worthy challenge,” Gutierrez noted. “The challenge is to give everyone opportunities so everyone can improve their life. Everyone can improve their future. Everyone can improve their family. Everyone can have hope for having a more prosperous future.”

The 2009 ACF will be held in Santiago, Chile, and will build on the success of this forum.

For more information about ACF 2008, the final report from the forum, and the results of the Western Hemisphere Competitiveness Survey, visit the ACF’s Web site at

Peter Bowman is an international economist with the International Trade Administration’s Market Access and Compliance unit.


Impact of Textiles and Apparel Trade Highlighted in Americas Competitiveness Forum Session

by Richard Stetson

Textiles and apparel account for more than $86 billion annually of trade within the Western Hemisphere. The United States contributes more than $33 billion of textiles and apparel imports and exports to the region. One breakout session at the Americas Competitiveness Forum 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia, focused on the effect of textile and apparel trade on Western Hemisphere economies.

The session provided a place to discuss steps that can improve competitiveness of the textile sector in the Americas. In recent years, through a variety of multilateral initiatives, including 32 preferential trade programs and 21 free trade agreements, the region has worked to strengthen trade in textiles and apparel within the area and beyond. By taking advantage of the opportunities offered by existing programs and agreements and by exploring ways in which new agreements can be reached, the textile and apparel industries will work together to make the Americas more competitive in the sector.

Matt Priest, deputy assistant secretary for textiles and apparel in the Import Administration, moderated a panel discussion about the regional textile and apparel trade. The discussion focused on future opportunities and challenges in the region. Panel members included David Spooner, assistant secretary for Import Administration; Beatriz Leycegui Gardoqui, Mexico’s undersecretary for international trade negotiations; Carlos Zuniga, executive director of the National Free Trade Zone Commission in Nicaragua; and Jerry Cook, vice president of government and trade relations for Hanesbrands Inc.

The speakers enthusiastically endorsed the potential of the cumulation provision within the Central American Free Trade Agreement–Dominican Republic, and they hope it might expand to include other regional trade partners and industries. Cumulation is a unique trade provision that allows products to be made in a trade bloc and to use inputs from other regional trading partners to gain duty-free market access to the United States. Another common theme was the immediate need for the Western Hemisphere to continue to seek ways to strengthen the textile trade through creative approaches that enhance efficiencies for businesses.

Richard Stetson is an international trade specialist with the International Trade Administration’s Import Administration.