UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: (In progress.) I want to thank Vice President Alburquerque for the generous leadership in hosting the Americas Competitiveness Forum, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, as well as the Pathways to Prosperity Ministerial yesterday. It is my pleasure to join him, your other guests, all of you, Under Secretary Sanchez and my fellow speakers in this opening ceremony of the fifth Americas Competitiveness Forum.
This event presents a tremendous opportunity for participants to engage in open dialogue and investment opportunities, the business environment in the Americas, and strengthening the competitiveness of the region. Occasions such as this, in which the countries of the Americas convene to discuss and cooperate in tackling common problems, are what President Obama envisioned when he emphasized the notions of equal partnership and shared leadership in the last Summit of the Americas in 2009, and during his trip to the region earlier this year.
We have the luxury of living in one of the world’s most dynamic, vibrant regions. While many other parts of the world struggled with recession – and my own country certainly has – the combined economies of the Americas grew by about six percent last year. Over the next five years, the economies of Latin America and the Caribbean are expected to grow by an additional one-third.
Much of the hemisphere has been improving the quality of democratic governance and consolidating macroeconomic stability over the last decade, and making great strides in overcoming historic inequalities. The United States is committed to partnering with the region to continue this remarkable progress.
Over the past 20 years, the economies of our region have become increasingly interdependent. We no longer just trade - we make things together, we create things together. We have long recognized this economic interdependence, which is why the United States now has so many trade agreements with countries stretching from the Arctic Circle to the Straits of Magellan. I am pleased to say that on October 3rd, the President submitted our three pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and Korea to Congress. We are requesting swift Congressional action on these agreements as part of a legislative agenda that also includes Trade Adjustment Assistance to help U.S. workers adapt to changing trade flows.
Economies in the Americas now trade with each other on a diversified range of goods that develops our entire productive structures and develops the full potential of our respective nations. These are broader, healthy, mutually beneficial relationships. We should be discussing even greater, deeper economic integration in our hemisphere so that we can compete more effectively in today’s global economy.
While there is robust economic growth and poverty reduction in the region, there are still some being left behind. They are often from historically disadvantaged groups, like indigenous peoples, Afro-descendents, women, and isolated rural communities. The United States wants to partner with governments, businesses, and other institutions to break down the remaining barriers to social mobility in the Americas, to make our societies more inclusive. Through Pathways to Prosperity, which met yesterday, many countries in the region are working together to promote inclusive economic growth through empowering small business, facilitating trade, building a modern workforce, and enhancing environmental cooperation.
Last week, Uruguay hosted a Pathways conference on Digital Opportunities. We hope to hold similar events elsewhere in the region. Last June in Jamaica, the Secretary of State launched the Caribbean IDEA, International Diaspora Engagement Alliance, marketplace to mobilize the diaspora Caribbean community in the United States. We are also committed to advancing energy security and environmental sustainability in the Americas. Under the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas, we are promoting the increased use of renewable energy, conservation, and integration of national power grids, particularly in Central America and the Caribbean. We are working for sustainable urban planning decisions, efficient land-use strategies, and much, much more.
This brings me back to the main focus of this fifth Americas Competitiveness Forum. Our economic interdependence, the fact that we make products together through increasingly integrated supply chains, means we all have an interest in coming together today to discuss how we can implement effective policies to reduce barriers, increase human capacity, increase better educational opportunity, and raise our region’s productivity. These are priorities that we all share together. And the April 2012 Summit of the Americas in Cartagena offers us an excellent opportunity to deepen our cooperation in the region and increase the ability of our governments to serve our citizens.
In closing, the United States looks forward to forging partnerships with our neighbors throughout the Americas. I have only been the Under Secretary for Political Affairs for about two and a half weeks. But the decade before that I was a businesswoman, well aware of the challenges that businesses face in development. This is one of the most robust and exciting regions of the world, and I look forward to deepening my personal relationships with people in this region as well.
Thank you very much for your invitation to be here. (Applause.)