I look around this table and I see nations dedicated to strengthening democracy, spreading opportunities, and promoting inclusive prosperity throughout the Americas.
Since we were together last year in El Salvador, our region has been tested by a number of crises, including the political upheaval in Honduras and the devastating earthquake in Haiti and Chile. I was in Santiago two days ago, where I had the opportunity to meet and consult with both President Bachelet and President-elect Pinera. And it is so important that we all, once again, come to the aid of our neighbors. Assistance is starting to flow in from across the hemisphere and it is reminiscent, tragically, of the great efforts made to support our friends in Haiti.
Chile was one of the first to respond to Haiti’s earthquake. The Chilean rescue and recovery workers performed heroic efforts. They worked around the clock to find and rescue survivors. Now it is time to stand with both Chile and Haiti as they recover and rebuild.
These emergencies highlight the strength of our ties as neighbors, partners, and friends, and they amplify the importance of the work we are doing through Pathways. We are here to help create conditions that enable people to obtain the economic and social opportunities critical to national and regional stability and progress. Whether our countries are seeking to defuse threats to democracy, protect against the effects of natural disasters, or build long-term prosperity, it is vital that we spread the benefits of economic growth and integration to more people in more places.
In our region, prosperity has widened in recent decades. We’ve worked to promote growth and create jobs through sound fiscal policy, bilateral trade agreements, multilateral pacts like NAFTA and CAFTA-DR, and institutions like the Inter-American Development Bank. But for too many people in too many places, including in my own country, opportunity is limited and fleeting.
So through Pathways, we are working to close the opportunity gap that exists for the farmers, craft people, and small business owners who are excluded from financial services and who lack access to global markets. We seek to engage women and historically marginalized populations such as indigenous peoples and Afro descendents to give them the chance to contribute to and share in the broader economic progress. And as the number of young people across the hemisphere rises, we are working together to make sure that the number of schools, access to higher education, and jobs rise as well.
What I like about Pathways to Prosperity is that it provides a critical forum where nations committed to democracy and open markets can share the best practices for promoting social and financial inclusion. We can and must learn from each other. The Americas, as we heard from the minister from Costa Rica, are one of the world’s most dynamic and diverse regions, with a strong economic base that is evident in the multitude of creative solutions already at work in our countries. And I’ve had a chance to see these solutions in practice.
In El Salvador, a public-private partnership has provided credit to small and medium size businesses, sparking entrepreneurship, and raising family incomes. In Brazil, where I was yesterday, I met with a group of businesses that represented partnership between Brazilian and U.S. Governments, and over 100 U.S. companies called Mais Unidos, which promotes corporate social responsibility, job training, English language training, especially for at-risk Brazilian young people, so that they too have the tools to compete.
And like you, I have followed the progress that Uruguay and Panama have made towards spreading the benefits of the digital age through initiatives that distribute laptops to children. I was just in Uruguay, meeting with the out-going president and now-president Mujica, and their “one laptop per child” program has given a great boost to learning and access to the wider world. Legislation passed in Honduras makes credit now available to farmers and small businesses through secured transactions. Every single one of these programs can be a model for the rest of us, and that is what I hope comes from our meeting today.
And I want to recognize our host, Costa Rica, a global leader in environmental sustainability. Costa Rica co-hosted a conference in January with the Organization of American States on how to encourage public participation in environmental decision making. Yesterday, the EARTH Institute here in Costa Rica led a discussion on the business challenges and opportunities facing women in the Americas, and the Rainforest Alliance, Wal-Mart, and other organizations discussed their efforts to bring micro-enterprises into global supply chains. That is a critical element of sustainable and inclusive development.
Now, none of these programs or policies will close the opportunity gap on its own. But together, they move us toward the goal of giving all people of the Americas the chance to fulfill their God-given potential, to earn a living, receive an education, participate in the global economy, and if they choose, to start or expand a business.
I am so impressed by the people in our hemisphere. I’ve traveled throughout this hemisphere for 17 years now, and I meet people with smart ideas, a great work ethic, and a strong entrepreneurial spirit everywhere. What I have concluded is that talent is universal, but opportunity is not. They just need a chance to show what they can do, to compete in a business environment that is fair and secure. And together, we can help provide for that.
To that end, the United States will be focusing on several Pathway initiatives to support entrepreneurs across the hemisphere. First, we’ve had success in our country with the creation of small business development centers where people can go to get information and advice about starting a business. Some Pathway countries have adopted this model, and we’re looking to share it with others by organizing exchange visits between countries.
Second, we are supporting women entrepreneurs across the hemisphere. We know that women still today are often overlooked or excluded, especially when they go for credit. I’ve had women say to me, “A lot of dreams die in the parking lots of banks.”
So even though these women are innovative, energetic, hardworking, and committed, we’re not doing enough to support their businesses and efforts. Last October, the United States hosted a conference for women entrepreneurs from the Americas. And we’ve launched a mentoring network to connect experienced women business leaders with women who are just starting out. In the coming months, we’ll work with you to deepen and expand that network.
Third, we want to help our partners in Pathways modernize customs procedures, something that was also mentioned by the Costa Ricans. Efficient and effective customs practices are critical to attracting foreign investment and succeeding in global markets. Now, several countries in Pathways are also members of APEC. The members of APEC have agreed to reduce our trade logistics delays and costs by 5 percent. And I challenge the other members of Pathways to work with us to do the same. The United States will sponsor workshops for public and private sector officials to share best practices for improving customs procedures. At APEC, we looked at research which showed that these small changes in customs procedures that have a direct and significant impact on improving business opportunities in every country.
Fourth, trade requires effective communication. This year, we have offered 100 teachers from Pathways countries training in English language instruction, and over 400,000 students across the region are learning English at the 140 bi-national centers we support. This is work we are committed to continuing, and I’d like to ask our partners in Pathways to make this a mutual exchange. Millions of U.S. citizens speak Spanish as a first or second language, or are learning how to speak it. With your help, we can have even more U.S. citizens learning Spanish, and that will increase our trade and business ties.
Fifth, we are working to help small and medium-sized enterprises decrease the amount of water, energy, and raw materials they need to protect natural resources, shrink carbon emissions, and save costs.
Sixth and finally, the United States is committed to working with our Pathways partners to modernize laws that govern lending so that small and medium size businesses can use assets other than real estate as collateral for loans. I visited the display that Honduras has, and they showed me the kind of equipment that can now serve as collateral in Honduras because Honduras has changed their laws: sewing machines, tool boxes, farm equipment.
Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and the source of employment for many of our citizens. We must give them the chance to borrow larger amounts at lower interest rates with longer repayment periods if we’re going to make it easier for these enterprises to thrive. And I commend Honduras for the model programs that they are implementing.
Let me say a word about the importance of job creation in Haiti. One of the great stories about this horrible tragedy in Haiti is that before the earthquake, working with the Government of Haiti, many of the countries around the table were committed to long-term development projects. Shortly before the earthquake, my husband, who works with the secretary general of the United Nations, brought over 500 business leaders from across our hemisphere to Haiti to sign contracts, to open factories, expand businesses, to develop tourism.
Last spring, I visited a garment factory in Haiti that was a powerful engine for local economic growth. At that time, apparel exports made up approximately 90 percent of all exports from Haiti and supported 28,000 jobs. We expected that to grow many times over. Since the earthquake, many of Haiti’s factories are coming back online. Many others, however, are still closed, and their workers out of work. Getting Haiti’s industry moving again will help the immediate recovery effort and stimulate future growth.
The United States has a trade preference program called Haiti HOPE, H-O-P-E, which extends our most favorable tariffs and terms on Haitian exports of textiles and apparel. Our Congress is considering bills that may help Haitian producers even more. Other countries have also taken such steps. Canada, for example, has an excellent program that allows Haitian products to enter tariff-free.
I am sure that many of you heard about the moving conversation yesterday between women entrepreneurs in Haiti and elsewhere in the region. This one conversation reflects the deep sense of solidarity that people across the hemisphere feel for the people of Haiti. I encourage members of Pathways to channel that solidarity into new economic opportunities for the Haitian people, particularly with new market opportunities in your countries. And together, we can help Haiti recover better and build back even stronger.
Now, we won’t reach the goals, the very ambitious goals that we have set, but we will make progress through persistent experimentation and collaboration. We must identify those programs and policies that are really working and move away from those that are not. And I hope all of us will establish concrete plans of action with accountability measures that really look hard at how well we are doing and demand results from these programs. And we should increase our collaboration through other partnerships as well – the Inter-American Social Protection Network launched last year in the United Nations General Assembly. And the United States is looking forward to working with all of you on innovative ways to reduce social inequalities and improve the work of public institutions.
I was reminded again that wherever we live in the Americas, whatever our heritage, whatever language we speak, we all want the same thing: the chance to live safe and healthy lives; to see our families productive and moving toward a better future; to participate fully in our communities; and to do all that we can to extend those opportunities to others. I think we are building on a strong foundation, and I am very pleased to participate once again in this ministerial. And I look forward to working with all of you in the days, months, and years ahead. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
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