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Remarks by Acting United States Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis on "Trade: The Past and The Promise for Tomorrow”

Remarks by Acting United States Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis on "Trade: The Past and The Promise for Tomorrow”

American Center
Rangoon, Burma
April 26, 2013

*As Prepared for Delivery*

“Thank you for this incredible opportunity to speak today, as well as to hear and learn from you all. Thanks also to Ambassador Derek Mitchell for hosting us at the American Center, and for the good work your team does every day in partnership with the people here.

“Nearly 70 years ago, a visionary from your country made this insightful statement about world economics: 

“’[C]ountries with [a] smaller share in international trade have an equal, if not greater, interest in the stability of international trade.’ 

“This official said that the achievement of a small country’s goals depends almost entirely on the ability to raise living standards for its people. To do that, he said – and I’m quoting again – ‘we need a stable market for our products and a stable source of supply for our needs.’ 

“The speaker of these extremely insightful words was the head of your country’s delegation to a challenging set of international negotiations. Together, 23 nations were working to build a framework for global trade. In 1947, those negotiations produced the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, or the GATT. And this country was one of that agreement’s architects. 

“The GATT was groundbreaking. It started six decades worth of multilateral trade expansion. That has produced billions and billions of dollars in economic growth and opportunity for people all over the world, as we have shared through commerce the goods and services we created with our hands and our minds. 

“That framework you helped to build, the GATT, was also the foundation for the World Trade Organization (WTO) as we know it today. 

“The leader of your delegation understood the power and promise of trade to unlock your country’s full economic potential. In two decades after the GATT entered into force, you were one of the world’s leading exporters of agricultural goods. 

“GATT marked the beginning of a new era of economic openness. And your country is on the threshold of another. In his historic visit here, President Obama said that something is happening in this country that cannot be reversed. He said the United States would be your partner as you faced the challenges of the days ahead. 

“We know that trade and investment must be an integral part of how you overcome those challenges. Because open trade has been the path back to prosperity for countless countries and billions of people in them. 

“It lifted South Korea from the ashes of war to powerhouse economic status. It fueled Singapore’s growth as a global trading post and one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Responsible, rules-based trade has revived economies from Rwanda to Peru to Vietnam to the United States. 

“In fact, trade is one of the central pillars of President Obama’s strategy to renew America’s economy and support jobs for our citizens. And it is central to his strategy to promote economic opportunity throughout the developing world. 

“Trade and investment are something we all need, something we can all do together. 

“And there are so many ways that America wants to work with you – bilaterally, in the region, and where it all began for you, in the halls of multilateral global trade. 

“First, let’s look at what our two countries can do directly. 

“The United States is the single largest consumer market in the world. Our people welcome goods from every corner of the globe. 

“I’ve been to the Bogyoke Aung San Market. I’ve seen your beautiful lacquer and other amazing products. I can look into your faces and see that you can dream up more. And I know Americans will buy them. 

“That’s why just last week, the United States started the process of considering your country for inclusion in our Generalized System of Preferences program, or GSP. 

“Since he became our leader, President Obama has promised that America would employ trade to lift people out of poverty worldwide. And the United States uses GSP to do that, by providing duty-free access to the U.S. market for imports. 

“Before we grant GSP to a country, we consult with our own Congress and the American public first. We also seek to make sure that countries are taking steps to give workers their internationally recognized rights – a topic that I was pleased to discuss yesterday with your Deputy Minister of Labor U Myint Thein. We look for efforts to provide adequate and effective protection of intellectual property rights. 

“It’s worth the work to make these and other essential reforms. In addition to making you eligible for GSP, economic improvements that support the rule of law, transparency, and stronger institutions can bring investment and trade to your country in other ways. That, in turn, will support growth and jobs. 

“GSP by itself can be the first step on a country’s journey to billions of dollars in trade. Singapore and South Korea used to be GSP recipients – and you see where they are today. Imagine your country with that kind of prosperity, too. 

“It is because we see great potential here that the United States is exploring a further step. 

“Just yesterday, I began discussions with your government’s leadership – including Senior Minister U Soe Thane and Commerce Minister U Win Myint – on the possibility of a new Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, or TIFA. 

“A TIFA would make sure that our countries engage regularly on trade and investment – identifying issues that are important to us both, looking for opportunities and solving problems. A TIFA would be an important step in normalizing our bilateral commercial relationship. 

“Since we began to ease economic sanctions last year, our bilateral trade has grown significantly. New tools like GSP and a TIFA could increase our opportunities to gain through responsible two-way trade and investment. 

“We can also move forward together on trade, not just as two countries, but as Asia-Pacific nations. 

“Your position at the crossroads of Asia makes you a very attractive partner to the United States. And you are poised for leadership in the region. 

“Your country will chair the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) next year. That is exciting, because we will be able to partner more closely on a new initiative that holds great promise for you and your closest neighbors. 

“The Expanded Economic Engagement Initiative – which we call the E3 – recognizes the growing importance and potential of Southeast Asia. And it’s meant to give you 21st-century tools to engage economically with the world. 

“The E-3 is designed to expand digital technology. It will help small businesses – maybe a business that one of you in this room will start – connect with foreign markets and get involved in trade. Those kinds of advances, the ones we are seeking in the E-3, can change the daily lives of people across Southeast Asia. And I know at the helm of ASEAN next year, your country will help to make that happen. 

“How do I know? Because when your country engages with the world on trade – you make lasting change. 

“You did that in the GATT – and now the organization that grew from the GATT, the WTO, is at a crossroads too. 

“At meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum last week, your APEC neighbors talked about what needs to happen now at the WTO – again, what we all need to do together to strengthen global trade. 

“Striking an agreement at the WTO this year, one that includes measures to facilitate trade as well as elements on agriculture and development – can open up new trade opportunities for you and for the United States and for every WTO member. And it can show that we are still capable of making progress on the Doha Round, which was conceived to help developing countries benefit more broadly from global trade. 

“Right now the WTO talks are in trouble. There are some proposals on agriculture, in particular, that aren’t feasible to address by the time WTO ministers meet in Bali, Indonesia this December – not to mention that they won’t help developing countries feed their people as much as open markets can. But the United States is ready to work to make smart updates to trade rules now. 

“The benefits will be measurable for all WTO members. 

“But an agreement would especially help developing countries like yours, reducing trade costs by as much as 15 percent and increasing export opportunities for small traders. 

“That may sound boring, frankly. But you are seeing, as your country transforms, all the small and complicated steps it takes to change people’s daily lives – to improve the material standards of living, as your trade negotiator said all those decades ago. 

“I know that your leaders are dedicated to the same proposition today. Later today, I will have the honor of meeting with Member of Parliament, and Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Rule of Law, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. 

“I am looking forward to hearing her perspective on how to improve the daily lives of ordinary people, from the Himalayan foothills to the Irrawaddy delta. 

“And I am sure that in addition to vital reforms to ensure human dignity and freedom – reforms that President Obama discussed and encouraged in his visit last year – economic engagement will be part of that. 

“The promise of trade remains as true for this country today as it was when you helped found the GATT. Trade and investment will still support jobs for farmers, entrepreneurs, and everyday workers here. It will bring new growth to your communities. It will give you all access and the ability to buy products from around the world. 

“I am only here, the first American trade minister to visit your country, because I believe, because President Obama believes, that we can work with your leaders and your private sector to create a brighter tomorrow through trade and investment. There can be more opportunity for you, for your children, for generations to come. You can make this country’s future as rich as its history. We will be by your side as you do so. 

“Thank you.”