Remarks by Christopher A. Padilla
Under Secretary of Commerce
for International Trade
Caribbean-Central American Action’s Spring Board Meeting
June 10, 2008
I want to thank Anton Edmunds for inviting me to address the CCAA’s Board – it’s an honor to be here today. Before I begin, I want to take a moment to remember Harry Brautigam Ortega who was tragically killed in an airplane crash in Honduras on May 30th. Dr. Brautigam was a friend and a colleague who spent a lifetime devoted to the Hemisphere. Please accept my condolences on behalf of the Commerce Department – our deepest sympathies are with his family and friends.
Today, we can honor Dr. Brautigam and his important contribution to the region’s development by renewing our commitment to democracy, economic openness, and prosperity throughout the Western Hemisphere.
The Third Border
America’s third border is usually considered to consist of Central America and the Caribbean – and this includes Cuba. In many of these nations, the difficult and sometimes violent debate over the path towards prosperity and security is over. All across the region, there is an intellectual awakening and acknowledgement that democratic openness is the only path towards freedom and prosperity. Today, many countries in Central America and the Caribbean share the same key common values with the United States – the commitment to democracy, free markets, and the rule of law. These are the fundamental building blocks for a free and prosperous country.
The United States remains committed to our third border partners. Not only do we share long standing economic, cultural and family ties, but we also share an important legacy of partnership. One year ago this month, President Bush reiterated his committed to Caribbean prosperity along with the region’s Heads of Government at the Conference on the Caribbean in Washington. Two years earlier, the President signed the implementing act for the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement establishing a permanent trade partnership with one Caribbean and five Central American partners. And in 2007, Secretary Gutierrez hosted the inaugural America’s Competitiveness Forum in 2007, which brought together leading public and private sector officials to boost our Hemisphere’s standing in the global marketplace. The Secretary will co-host the second Forum -- ACF 2008 – this August in Atlanta, and we look forward to strong participation from our Central American and Caribbean friends.
Our close partnership is producing great results. We have increased the competitiveness of the Western Hemisphere by actively promoting policies that drive democracy, economic openness, vibrant trade relationships, and innovation. These are the ideals that lead to prosperity. Together, we must ensure that the entire region realizes the benefits of openness.
Openness & Innovation – The United States
America today is the most successful economy on earth because of our culture of openness. It is our openness – our fundamental belief that we are stronger as a nation when we welcome to our shores the world’s products, ideas, investment, and people – that gives us the ability to respond to new challenges and new competitors.
In America, our openness to trade gives us access to the world’s products at affordable prices, keeps us on our competitive toes, and creates new markets for our exports. Being open to foreign investment capital provides the lubricating oil for the American economic engine. And as Fareed Zakaria recently wrote in Foreign Affairs, our nation is “constantly revitalized by streams of people who are eager to make a new life in a new world.”
Our political system is built on the premise that all Americans have an equal opportunity to rise as far as their individual ability and drive will take them. Our innovative economy benefits from low taxes, an aversion to the stifling hand of government regulation, and a respect for ideas in the form of strong patents, copyrights, trademarks, and other intellectual property rights. Our strong education system rewards independent thought and keeps us questioning, wondering, and always searching for ways to make things better.
Democracy – Cuba
Unfortunately, openness is not a luxury enjoyed by all the Hemisphere’s citizens. May 21st marked an historic day of solidarity with the Cuban people. On this day, together with other supporters around the world, we honored the culture and history of a noble nation. As President Bush said, it was both “…a day of sorrow, as we reflect on the continued oppression of the Cuban people…” and “a day of hope.” The President was referring to his hope that a future of freedom will bring to Cubans something that has been little more than a dream for generations.
This is a truth that we cannot ignore. The Cuban people’s oppression is an evil that we must actively work to reverse. It is a travesty that the vibrant Cuban society once teeming with artists, scholars, authors, musicians, and athletes has all but disappeared. As the Castro regime pretends to offer openings to its people, let us hold the regime accountable for its new promises, lest they be empty. It is time to support those in the Hemisphere seeking freedom.
Trade & Security
And when the authoritarian regime in Cuba does fall, the Cuban people will be poised to thrive in an interconnected and flourishing Hemisphere. Throughout the region, where leaders and people have chosen democracy and the free market, trade has had a positive opening effect on the region’s investment, business, and entrepreneurial spirit. CAFTA is now more than two years old and has sparked a parallel reform effort on the parts of both the public and private sectors. I encourage CCAA to be even more vocal in arguing the case for free and fair trade and promoting real progress on regional integration initiatives.
I had the opportunity to visit Central America twice this year and saw first-hand the benefits of CAFTA– the increased trade and investment, the stronger economic growth, the job creation, and the integration with U.S. business. The Government of Guatemala for example, has created a one-stop shop for registering a business, by shortening the process to just 24 hours. Private companies operating in El Salvador have managed to streamline their business operations to expedite their products to the United States where buyers eagerly await their shipments. In Nicaragua, I met former subsistence farmers who are now producing high-end specialty crops – such as lettuce, broccoli, and plaintains and exporting them to the United States. And CAFTA has helped to further solidify the young democracies of Central America in the face of opposing influences from Venezuela and others.
With our partners in the Caribbean, we have committed to a deepening of our trade and investment relationship with CARICOM. We support the integration of the Caribbean islands into the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, because a unified group of smaller economies would benefit greatly from the harmonization and strengthening of regional economic policies. The CSME offers a real opportunity for the Caribbean economies to compete on a more level playing field in the global economy.
Unfortunately, the benefits of economic openness are at risk of being nullified by drug trafficking, gang violence, and human smuggling. This is especially relevant in Third Border countries where tourism is a major sector of the economy. Today, Central America and the Caribbean have some of the highest homicide rates in the world and those numbers continue to rise. Clearly, even as we are advancing toward prosperity in our Hemisphere, many roadblocks remain to fully realizing our common goals.
Despite this, we are making great strides. Our Central America partners both collectively and individually have demonstrated historic democratic progress since the end of their internal conflicts. As they have integrated economically, they have also transformed their militaries and improved respect for human rights. Central America’s willingness to work with the United States and Mexico on these issues has led to the Merida Initiative an unprecedented step toward addressing security with our partners that bridge the Andes to the United States.
As business leaders in the Caribbean and Central America, I call on each of you to foster deeper and more collaborative relationships with government to chart the course of reform that will launch new waves of investment, commerce, and economic opportunity.
I’d like to close by challenging our Hemisphere to shape its identity by supporting principles that allow us to compete, innovate, and stabilize the hope of prosperity for our citizens. We must build the vigor and energy known to nations that are constantly reinventing themselves with new products, capital, ideas, and people from around the globe.
Democratic nations believe that they have a sacred trust to improve the lives of their citizens. In the United States, we know that economic openness is one key to unlock our dynamism and strength. We seek to enlarge the circle of openness in our Hemisphere, to spread the values of democracy and respect for free markets. No matter our heritage or our background, surely these are values we can all join in defending.
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