Indian Treaty Room, Washington, D.C.
It is my honor and privilege to be here this morning with my
friends, Minister Sonia Guzman and Ambassador Carolina Mejia of the Dominican Republic.
Today, we are taking the historic step of freeing trade between
the Dominican Republic and the United States -- as an integral part of the Central American Free
I am delighted that we have been joined by Secretary General-elect
Rodriguez of the Organization of American States and my ministerial colleagues from
Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua, as well as the representatives of El Salvador and
Guatemala. Their participation punctuates that the importance of this FTA extends beyond our two
countries, indeed even beyond Central America – to all the Americas.
It is fitting that we are in the room where the Bretton Woods
Agreements were signed almost exactly 60 years ago, setting the stage for successive waves of
economic cooperation and trade liberalization that have reshaped our world.
The same spirit that inspired the visionaries who conceived the
Bretton Woods Agreements guides our actions here today.
President Bush set us on the course by calling for a free trade
agreement between the United States and Central America, declaring that free markets,
development, opportunity, and hope are the best weapons against poverty, disease, and tyranny.
The addition of the Dominican Republic, the largest economy in the
Caribbean, to this free trade agreement will add to its constructive power and promise for all
For the United States and the Dominican Republic, the signing of
this free trade agreement opens a new chapter in the history of our relationship.
In the past, the promise of democratic hopes could not be
realized, economies faltered, even blood was shed, and the poor, hardworking citizens of the
Dominican Republic lost chance after chance to better their lives with freedom. Because of that sad
past, hundreds of thousands of Dominicans left their homeland for the United States, where they
enriched our society.
Today, the Dominican Republic is breaking that cycle with free
elections and a peaceful transfer of democratic power, even in the face of major economic
challenges. By joining together in CAFTA, the United States and the Dominican Republic can strengthen
our ties while building the foundation for the Dominican economy to thrive, helping
democracy to take deeper root.
This free trade agreement between the United States and the
Dominican Republic will help to create new economic opportunity. It will eliminate tariffs, open
markets, promote transparency, and establish state-of-the-art rules for 21st-Century
At a time of turmoil for the Dominican Republic’s close neighbor,
Haiti, this agreement will also bring a sorely needed economic boost to the island of Hispaniola
(HISS pan yo la).
We were careful to shape the agreement to keep our existing
preference program intact and offer inspiration to countries in the region aspiring to economic growth
led by trade.
And we will work closely with Congress to ensure that the
integration of the Haitian and Dominican textile industries can continue to thrive through the
Caribbean Basin Trade Preference Act and contribute to an integrated and competitive
regional market in which American workers and businesses can benefit, too.
This agreement will bring economic gains to the United States, for
the Dominican Republic and the other nations of CAFTA represent very big markets.
With today’s addition of the Dominican Republic, CAFTA will become
the second-largest U.S. export market in Latin America, behind only Mexico, buying more
than $15 billion in U.S. exports. That exceeds U.S. exports to Russia, India, and Indonesia
combined. The two-way trade amounts to some $32 billion.
This agreement will strengthen the special economic ties between
the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico as well. The two already have the largest bilateral
trading relationship in the Caribbean, accounting for almost $1.3 billion in two-way
When Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and Central America were outposts of
the Spanish Empire in the 18th Century, Iberian monarchs conspired to keep control of the
region by outlawing trade among the empire’s colonies. By the time Spain removed the trade
barriers in 1774, after realizing that stifling economic growth would only inspire
revolution, it was too late for that empire to endure.
The agreement we sign today, lowering trade barriers and fostering
trade among all CAFTA’s democracies, is crafted to unleash the very forces of economic
dynamism that a mistaken monarchy tried to restrain.
I want to add a special note about this effort: The fact that the
Dominican Republic is joining CAFTA is a credit to President Mejia's leadership. When we began
the CAFTA negotiations, the United States and the Dominican Republic still had to lay the
groundwork for an FTA.
Through a commitment to work together, we were able to get past
problems and on to progress.
When I was in the Dominican Republic in January, I saw signs of
how confidence is growing and the birth of new aspirations. In the Port of Caucedo, the
American company CSX has built a world-class cargo facility, with room to expand. That cargo port
matches the Dominican Republic’s potential to grow as a consumer, an exporter, and as a
transshipment point at a key location in international shipping lanes. This agreement
encourages that optimism.
So this agreement offers more than free trade. It offers new hope
for easing poverty, fostering development, and strengthening democracy. It is about
strengthening the rule of law and improving transparency to counter corruption. It is about creating
a favorable climate for foreign investment. It is about respect for the homelands of many
immigrants to the United States. And it is also about improving working conditions and protecting the
environment in the Dominican Republic.
In the United States, we are here today only because the U.S.
Congress passed Trade Promotion Authority in 2002, and because so many members of the Senate and
the House have offered us unflinching support. I especially want to thank three key
Representatives -- Kevin Brady, Charlie Rangel, and Jerry Weller. They have provided important
leadership and inspiration for the conclusion of this new agreement with the Dominican Republic.
I look to them to help us bring this FTA to fruition.
The work of negotiating this historic agreement could not have
come this far without the support of important business and farm leaders in both our nations. I know
many of them are in the audience, and thank you for your support.
Perhaps most of all, I want to recognize the very hardworking
professionals from USTR and the many other U.S. government departments that helped prepare this
agreement. There are dozens of people from across our government who worked on this FTA, and
while I cannot thank all of you by name, I am deeply grateful for your dedication, your
spirit, and your service.
One person at USTR does merit special recognition. Our chief
negotiator, Regina Vargo, is a zealous and skilled advocate of openness and trade who has spent
her career turning a grand vision for the hemisphere into a practical reality. Regina was
part of the team that negotiated NAFTA, and she led the FTA negotiations with Chile, Central
America, and the Dominican Republic. Regina is now deep into negotiations with Panama and the
Andean nations. I am most appreciative of her leadership and commitment.
I also want to thank Peter Allgeier and our Chief Agriculture
Negotiator, Allen Johnson, two of the USTR deputies, who worked tirelessly to achieve win-win
results on some of the toughest issues. One could not ask for better partners and leaders.
But even as we celebrate this accomplishment and thank those who
made it possible, today is just the beginning of our next challenge together. In Washington,
Santo Domingo, and the capitals of our other CAFTA partners, we must now turn our
attention to winning approval of the agreement from our respective legislatures.
In the United States, free trade foes resist through cavils,
caveats, and conditions. We hear that the Dominican Republic isn’t ready, that the country needs higher
labor standards and tighter environmental standards.
Opponents of free trade offer a false choice. The way to improve
labor and environmental standards is through open trade, leading to more work and greater
prosperity. I have traveled around the world too many times to keep count. Wherever I go, one
fact remains the same: Free and democratic peoples in open-trading, prosperous societies
choose higher standards for themselves. Dominicans are already doing the same.
So I cannot give you my thanks without also asking for your help
one more time. Businesses and their workers can tell a very powerful story of trade.
Dominicans in the United States can explain the benefits of drawing our nations more closely together,
cementing the ties that grow with links of business, investment, and every remittance sent
Throughout our histories, the Dominican Republic and the United
States have been neighbors in this hemisphere, with borders separated only by a few hundred
miles of water. Yet it has often seemed as if we lived oceans apart, separated by differing
histories and walls of economic inequality. Today, with a signature and a handshake, we are
tearing down those walls. We are bridging the distance that separates us. We are linking our
Together we will set an example for the rest of the world of what
a large, developed democracy and a smaller, developing democracy can accomplish together.
Today, the Dominican Republic joins five other nations that have
already signed a free trade agreement with their neighbor to the North. Together, we will
reduce poverty and create opportunity and hope. We will bind our nations more closely
together, traveling together as friends and partners on the economic path that leads to better
lives for all our peoples.