Good afternoon! First off, I want to thank the Department of Commerce for inviting me today. As you’ve already seen in the sessions this morning, the Departments of State and Commerce work very closely together to promote U.S. business abroad. I want to especially thank you entrepreneurs and executives who have invested your time to be here today.
The U.S. economy is critical to the success of the United States at home and abroad. “As my boss, Secretary [of State] Pompeo has said: “[W]e use American power, economic might, and influence as a tool of policy to help America achieve its interests and promote our values around the world. And if we do that right, it in turn cycles back to prosperity at home. We build relationships that create jobs and sustain American businesses and spur economic growth here at home.”
Today our economy is booming, improving the lives of U.S. citizens, and powering business expansion into new fields and new territories. The United States has added 5.8 million new jobs since 2017. The U.S. gross domestic product grew at nearly 3 percent in 2018, and through the first quarter, it’s on track to grow at a rate of 3.2 percent this year.
These economic conditions mean that U.S. businesses, U.S. workers, and U.S. producers can successfully compete with any nation in the world and develop new markets for expansion, investment, and opportunity. As U.S. businesses look beyond our borders, they will find the doors are open for business in the Caribbean. Indeed, the Caribbean is a diverse region with great potential for U.S. exports. With 43 million people, the combined population of the Caribbean represents the fifth largest market in the Western Hemisphere.
The United States is the primary trading partner for the Caribbean with a 38 percent market share going to U.S. goods and services. Caribbean countries imported 24 billion dollars worth of U.S. products and services in 2018. Two-way trade in goods between the United States and the Caribbean has increased steadily in recent years. From 31 billion dollars in 2016, up to 34 billion dollars in 2017, to 37.5 billion dollars last year – the commerce between the United States and the Caribbean is on the increase, creating opportunities for markets and investments throughout the region. In 2017, nearly 24 million U.S. travelers went to the Caribbean for tourism or visiting friends and relatives. In 2017, more than 11,000 Caribbean youth studied in U.S. schools and universities.
The Caribbean is attractive to U.S. exporters due to its geographic proximity and access to shipping lanes; large English-speaking markets; strong commercial and cultural affinity to North America; improving business climate, and rule of law traditions. The key for U.S. enterprises is learning about the opportunities in the region, and the key to that is to know what is happening in the region.
You’ve heard our economics officer in the Bahamas give an excellent example of helping Disney, but let me give you another example of what our economics and commercial officers in the field, many of whom are with us here today, are doing to promote U.S. business in the region. After attending the Solar Power International Trade Show, the largest energy trade show in North America, in 2017, at the recommendation of the U.S. Embassy in Georgetown, a Guyanese consortium established Green Power Solutions Inc. –now one of the leading solar contractors in Guyana. Green Power in turn purchased over $1 million in off-grid inverters from U.S. companies SunPower Corporation, Solar World USA and RECOM USA.
But that is just the start. Guyana’s prohibitively high energy costs have prompted several major companies to self-generate power, and interest in renewables is growing. Even after the oil that we hear so much about in Guyana begins to flow, the country’s “Green State Development Strategy” will prioritize selling oil offshore and use the profits to promote renewable energy usage in Guyana. The government and private sector prefer U.S. products and would welcome foreign investment in this sector—opportunities tailor-made for U.S. companies familiar with the Caribbean.
Utilizing trade promotion programs and fora such as the Caribbean Trade and Investment Council, in which I will participate later this week, we encourage Caribbean partners to adopt policies that support private sector-led growth. Stronger regional economies, in turn, lead to stronger and more robust trade relationships, and greater opportunities for U.S. exporters.
Strong demand for U.S. produced goods creates commercial opportunities in the Caribbean. Caribbean consumers are familiar with U.S. products from their frequent travel to the United States and their exposure to U.S. culture and retail products on the internet and TV. In addition, the quality and reliability of U.S. goods and services has encouraged Caribbean businesses and consumers to purchase from the United States and to maintain those business relationships over many years.
While opportunities for U.S. exporters and businesses vary by country and by product or service, exports of U.S. food products and household staples remain strong. Petroleum and coal, manufactured food, industrial chemicals, transportation equipment, computer and electronic products: these are the leading U.S. exports to the Caribbean, and some of the leading openings for U.S. businesses into the nations with which we share the Caribbean Sea.
The United States is committed to improving this vibrant trade and investment climate in the region, and I’m pleased to update you on the latest steps in cooperation with Caribbean nations. In 2017, the Department of State launched the U.S.-Caribbean 2020 Strategy to guide engagement in six areas of focus, or “pillars”: security, diplomacy, energy, education, health, and our focus here today, prosperity. We are committed to increasing U.S. and Caribbean prosperity by promoting sustainable growth, opening markets for U.S. exports, and supporting private sector-led investment and development.
This week we’re launching the Year or the Caribbean to focus on deepened U.S. engagement in the region. At the request of Caribbean nations, we have worked with the Commerce Department and the Florida International Bankers’ Association to address concerns about correspondent banking in the region, hosting a roundtable in March and holding a regulatory training session just yesterday.
In April, we launched a new initiative – the U.S. Caribbean Resilience Partnership – intended to make the Caribbean more resilient, and more attractive as a commercial market, in the face of increasing natural disasters. We have expanded relationships through Open Skies agreements with Caribbean nations, such as the ones we recently signed with Belize and Suriname.
Later this week, as I mentioned earlier, the U.S. Trade Representative will hold the Trade and Investment Council meetings with Caribbean government officials focused on increasing bilateral trade and improving the region’s investment climate and regulatory environment.
Our work to help diversify Caribbean energy sources under the Caribbean Energy Security Initiative, which will leverage U.S. support into $30 million in loan guarantees, will strengthen the economy and our security cooperation. Similarly, our law enforcement and security cooperation under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative supports a safer Caribbean, providing a better place to do business.
We understand that a prosperous Caribbean basin benefits us mutually, and we will continue to promote our successes with our Caribbean partners to support sustainable economic policies and job-creating, private sector-led growth.
I’ve just scratched the surface in talking about the many opportunities awaiting you in the Caribbean. But before I close I also want to commend you who are participating in this week’s conference. By showing up here, to learn more about the region, to meet with the experts who work in our embassies and missions in the islands, you have given yourself a competitive advantage. Before you leave this conference, you will have talked first-hand with people who have seen success in the Caribbean, and can identify the factors that go into it. Before you leave this conference, you will know how our government can better help you identify opportunities, and begin to make the most of them. And you will have contacts on the ground, in an environment where contacts can make the difference between a stumble and a successful first stride.
As you will see, our embassies and Commercial Services provide robust support, advocacy and country-specific information to American companies looking to invest abroad. For example, they regularly produce Investment Climate statements that describe the business environments, the steps a country takes to encourage foreign investment, and the laws and regulations that can help or hinder a U.S. enterprise. You would think this information is so valuable that you couldn’t get it at any price—but the truth is you don’t have to pay for it at all! The U.S. government provides this information, to all who know to look for it, free of charge, on the State Department’s website, as a core service to the U.S. business community. By investing your time here today, you have learned about resources already within your grasp, and you are cementing your competitive advantage to invest in business throughout the world.
Where we don’t have Commercial Officers posted at an embassy or consulate, our State Department economic officers take on those commercial duties. Through this partnership between the Commerce and State Departments, today, there are more than 200 diplomatic outposts helping to strengthen America’s economic reach and positive economic impact.
Here’s an example of a U.S. embassy in action on the commercial front. An American company was contracting with a Caribbean government to print that nation’s currency. The American company was facing bad press, however, because of spurious allegations generated by a foreign competitor, and the Caribbean government was considering breaking off negotiations with the company to protect its reputation. The company had already contacted the U.S. embassy in country and shared their concerns with the economic officers there.
Subsequently, the Embassy contacted the Caribbean bank to ascertain the status of the tender, provided context for the disconcerting news, and reopened a channel of positive communication between the U.S. company and the Caribbean government. The embassy’s involvement paved the way for constructive discussions, and the parties found a way to resolve the impasse. The result is the bottom line: a multi-million dollar contract was signed, opening the way to additional opportunities for the U.S. company.
That is why we are here today. We want to let you know the U.S. government is in the business of supporting additional opportunities for U.S. companies. The Caribbean is open for business. The United States government is here to help you in opening those doors. Thank you very much.