Remarks by Ambassador Ron Kirk
May 12, 2010
Council Of Americas
*As Prepared for Delivery*
“Thank you. Welcome to my fellow ministers from across the hemisphere. And thank you to Ambassador Negroponte as well as to Secretary Clinton and her gracious team here at the State Department for inviting me to speak. I know that it is something of a tradition for U.S. Trade Representatives to address this august gathering, and I am honored to carry on that tradition today.
“It is also somewhat traditional in recent years for the United States’ trading partners across the Americas to question the extent of U.S. engagement in the hemisphere. There are concerns – and if you read the news reports, sometimes reason to believe – that the United States is so preoccupied with Asia or with the European Union that we forget our closest neighbors. But I am proud to stand before you today. Because in the less than 16 months this Administration has been in office, we have been extensively engaged in the Americas – at the highest levels, and with a very broad scope. That engagement is exemplified not only through our ever-closer bilateral relationships, but also in the unprecedented level of cooperation through regional structures such as NAFTA.
“As part of these efforts, the Administration is emphasizing opportunities for new partnerships, from stimulating the economy throughout the hemisphere, to alleviating poverty, to utilizing the hemisphere’s vast resources to revolutionize energy use. We are also committed to increasing economic opportunities for the next generation, who represent the future of the region.
“One of President Obama’s first major overseas trips after taking office – and my first trip as USTR – was to attend the April 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. The Summit gave the President an opportunity to engage directly with his counterparts throughout the Hemisphere to listen to their interests and concerns and establish a sound working relationship going forward. The President made it clear early on that he cares deeply about the health and vitality of our relationship with the region.
“Since the Summit, I have been in frequent contact with my counterparts in the Americas. Recently, I traveled to Mexico, and I have also had the opportunity to meet the ambassadors and ministers from CARICOM countries to discuss ways to deepen our trade relationship. And as you know, President Calderon will be here next week, as we look to deepen our already-close relationship with Mexico.
“Of course, Presidential-level and minister-level meetings don’t happen all the time. Our most regular hemispheric engagement takes place through the day-to-day implementation of our free trade agreements.
“The United States’ newest FTA partner is Peru. In February 2010 the first meeting of the agreement’s oversight body took place on the heels of the FTA’s one year anniversary of its entry into force. The meeting discussed, among other things, a plan to effectively monitor the FTA’s environmental and labor aspects, as well as how to help small- and medium-sized businesses in both our countries capitalize on the deal.
“In particular, we were pleased to work with the Peruvian government to organize open public sessions both in Peru and the United States concerning labor and environmental issues. We are also working with the Peruvian government and interested stakeholders to ensure effective implementation of the forestry annex to our FTA.
“These efforts reflect not only a high level of cooperation between our countries, but also the Obama Administration’s commitment to inclusive discussions about trade, and to upholding labor and environmental standards that are in U.S. trade agreements..
“The parties to the Dominican Republic-Central America free trade agreement represent the third largest U.S. export market in Latin America, behind Mexico and Brazil. The CAFTA-DR agreement entered into force for the United States and El Salvador in 2006, and last year Costa Rica became a Party and the agreement took effect for all seven countries.
“We have been working to ensure that the agreement helps foster closer economic relationships between our countries on many levels. To that end, we are working closely with our CAFTA-DR partners on a range of issues, including customs, sanitary and phytosanitary issues and worker rights. Over the coming months, we hope to intensify our dialogue with our partners through organization of the first CAFTA-DR trade ministerial and through bilateral talks.
“Last fall, at meetings of the NAFTA Commission and the Chile FTA Committee we agreed to intensify efforts in support of labor and the environment with our FTA partners. We also are looking at innovative ways to enhance economic growth with those partners. For example, the Chilean and U.S. Governments are exchanging information on how our small and medium sized businesses are faring under that FTA, and how we can help them to do better. A similar discussion took place during the recent meeting of the Deputy Trade Ministers from the NAFTA countries.
“The message I have sent to my team is clear – work with our trade agreement partners so that we do not let opportunities under the FTAs to lie fallow, but instead cultivate these opportunities so we can jointly enhance the well-being of all of our citizens.
“Of course, in addition to implementing existing agreements, USTR is engaging with Colombia and Panama with a view to securing congressional approval of the free trade agreements we have negotiated with these valued economic and political partners of the United States.
“In the case of Panama, concerns have been raised with certain aspects of its labor regime and its tax transparency rules. The Administration has had extensive discussions with the Panamanian government over the past year, at all levels of government, regarding these concerns. Indeed, just yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet with Vice President Varela. As a result of our efforts, Panama has already implemented several important labor reforms and we are working with the government toward others, as well as to enhance Panama’s transparency on financial matters and the exchange of tax information.
“In the case of Colombia, the Administration has been conducting extensive fact-finding in order to identify what additional steps the Colombian government, with U.S. support, could take to ensure that fundamental labor rights can be fully exercised in Colombia. The Colombian government has been exceptionally cooperative in this effort, engaging at every level. USTR led an interagency team to meet with all of the relevant ministries, the Prosecutor General’s office and judges hearing labor cases.
“This fact-finding has also involved reaching out to the U.S. Congress as well as labor unions, human rights organizations and private sector groups in the United States and Colombia. Meanwhile, with U.S. encouragement, the Colombian government has already taken a number of steps to address violence against unionists and improve its labor code.
“As the President has said, to create jobs here at home we must strengthen our relationships with key trading partners. The Administration continues to believe that approval of the pending free trade agreements with Panama and Colombia can bring important economic benefits to the United States and to those countries.
“Of course, free trade agreements are not the only way we engage with important partners in the hemisphere. The United States also has a series of bilateral trade dialogues with a number of countries in Latin America. With Uruguay, for instance, we are looking forward to working with the new government to build upon the important substantive commitments on trade facilitation and environmental issues that have been undertaken as part of our work under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement.
“With Paraguay, we are making progress on intellectual property rights issues and issues relating to small and medium-sized enterprises. And we are working hard to enhance and reenergize our trade and investment dialogues with a number of other countries.
“For example, just last year I traveled to Brazil to discuss ways to move our bilateral meetings away from focusing on long-standing irritants toward more collaborative efforts. This idea was well received, and we are now working with Brazil to examine different models to achieve this goal. I am also pleased that we have reengaged in our trade dialogue with Ecuador, holding our first formal bilateral meeting of the Trade and Investment Council in over a decade and the first meeting of the Bilateral Council on Trade and Investment in seven years.
“Our constant engagement with partners across the Americas has laid a firm foundation of friendship on which to resolve trade disputes.
“When Canada approached the United States expressing its concern over the Buy American requirements in the Recovery Act, we saw an opening to turn a short-term bilateral concern into a long-term opportunity for both of our countries. For years, the United States and other countries have sought access to Canada’s provincial procurement markets through the World Trade Organization’s Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) negotiations. The waiver provisions of last year’s new Buy American requirements caused Canada to rethink its long-standing opposition to opening its provincial procurement markets. We were able negotiate a deal creating new access on both sides of the border to our respective procurement markets.
“Another example of successful engagement is our ongoing work to resolve our cotton dispute with Brazil. We engaged with stakeholders and the Congress, we had extensive conversations with Brazil, and we thought creatively and pragmatically. These steps have allowed us to develop a path forward; one that we hope will allow us to resolve our dispute over the long term, and one that avoids the costs of trade retaliation for both economies. I am confident that with continued engagement, we will be successful.
“The situation with Mexico and cross-border trucking has a longer and less happy history. But let me make clear that I remain convinced the best interests of the United States are served by working with the Congress and Mexico to resolve this dispute in a manner that is consistent with our international obligations, and ensures that our roads are safe and that all drivers meet U.S. qualifications.
“The goal, of course, of all of these efforts, is to allow countries to move forward to the next positive steps in their relationships. Right now, the United States is particularly excited to be moving to next steps with a new free trade arrangement involving two of our hemispheric partners – Peru and Chile – as part of a Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP. The TPP provides an opportunity to deepen the linkages between two of the most dynamic regions in the world, Asia and the Americas, with a 21st century trade agreement.
“There are many other ways that the United States will continue to engage with the countries of the Americas – multilaterally through the Doha Round negotiations, where we continue to lead the way toward a more balanced and ambitious agreement with meaningful market access for all – and also through trade preference programs and other work. I should say a word here about Haiti. Along with many governments in the hemisphere, we reached out to the Haitian people in the aftermath of January’s devastating earthquake. The initial focus was on humanitarian assistance, but as attention has turned to Haiti’s long term recovery and attracting investors to create jobs. The United States already has trade preference programs for Haiti, but the Administration has been working with Congress to expand the benefits available to Haiti and to extend the duration of the program. In addition, we are encouraging U.S. brands and retailers to work toward sourcing one percent of their total apparel production from Haiti, in the Plus One for Haiti initiative.
“The goal of the United States with all of our trading partners is to build mutually beneficial economic relationships that benefit people in both our countries, with the good jobs and economic opportunity that our people can make for themselves if the playing field is a level one. Through bilateral relationships, multilateral relationships, and the closeness that we all desire with our near neighbors, the future of U.S. engagement with our partners in the Americas looks robust and bright. Thank you.”