I want to thank the Council of the Americas, Susan Segal, and Eric Farnsworth, for the invitation to be here with all of you today.
We have been working steadily on President Biden’s commitment to sustained engagement with our partners throughout the Western Hemisphere to advance our shared vision for a future that is democratic, middle class, and secure.
Our over-arching goal is to support a prosperous, safe, and democratic region where the United States can partner with countries in the region to advance shared interests.
Strong and healthy regional economies are good for the United States and for our regional partners.
We trade twice as much with the countries of North, Central and South America as we do with China – and we export more to our neighbors in the Western Hemisphere than we do to all of Asia combined.
I do not think it is possible to overstate the importance of our economic engagement with the Americas, but it is particularly critical at this moment. The pandemic has devastated us all, and, we know, it continues to wreak havoc across the region, in terms of both lost lives and suffering and lost jobs and livelihoods.
Trade is estimated to have declined by well over 20 percent, even exceeding declines we saw in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
The responses of governments across the region have varied, but in all cases the reduction in revenue and necessary emergency expenditures has strained budgets, added to debt loads, and tested the ability to deliver services. Investment decisions by the private sector, and plans for infrastructure by the public sector, have been deferred or suspended until the future becomes clearer.
While we expect to begin to recover this year, IMF and World Bank projections suggest that we won’t reach pre-crisis levels of economic activity until 2023 or beyond.
So, we are all facing a monumental challenge. How do we deliver prosperity, jobs and—at its heart—the hope for our people that tomorrow can be better than today?
I would argue that our best chance for success lies in working together to address the challenges which, while they may vary in degree, are remarkably consistent across the region.
One of my roles as the Secretary of Commerce is to bring the U.S. private sector’s viewpoint to the U.S. government decision making process.
As I think we can all acknowledge, governments cannot address these problems alone. Our respective private sectors are the engines that will ultimately drive economic growth and job creation in our countries.
Which brings me to another of my roles as the Secretary of Commerce, which is to take the advice of the private sector and work to create the conditions under which our companies and entrepreneurs can drive economic growth and job creation.
Based on that advice, we have focused our work in the hemisphere in three key areas:
- First, competitiveness. We must focus on strengthening competitiveness in the region, so that we continue to be strong trading partners for the world, and with each other.
- Second, transparency. We are working to improve the landscape for fair competition, by removing barriers to trade and discriminatory regulations, advocating for better policy decisions and procurements, and helping support transparent government processes.
- And finally, security. We mean both the ability to improve public safety and border security, but also the ability to preserve integrity and sovereignty to counter malign influences.
We are focused on Competitiveness, Transparency and Security because we have identified them as pillars on which we can help build economic growth and job creation in the United States and in Latin America more broadly to support recovery.
We are proud of the achievements of U.S. companies across many industries from health care to high-speed computing, and from renewable energy to entertainment. And we are more committed than ever to sharing those achievements with all our business and government partners in the region.
We will achieve this vision for the future by working alongside each country as partners in shared goals, to benefit our citizens and economies.
There are many common challenges across the region, including addressing climate change, accelerating energy transition, ensuring security, improving healthcare, and the need to build infrastructure.
Our efforts to address them cannot and should not be developed by government alone.
Our private sectors must also be key partners in enhancing regional competitiveness, increasing regional stability, and promoting democratic values. We need to recognize them as strategic assets that underpin our economic vitality, which we know is as important as our military and diplomatic strength.
We believe that the United States acts in our own and the region’s best interest when we help neighboring nations build open economies and create opportunity for all of their people.
Let me assure you that the United States will remain a steadfast and committed partner as we work to move our region towards its enormous potential as an engine of growth, opportunity and poverty reduction for its own citizens and for the global economy.
We look forward to working with your members, the broader U.S. private sector, and the governments in the region to bring solutions to these challenges.
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