A top U.S. official says strong economic relationships with the Caribbean and Latin America are “a strategic necessity.”
Addressing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington on Oct. 17, Thomas Nides, deputy secretary for management and resources at the State Department, said “sustainable, inclusive economic growth in Latin America and the Caribbean will benefit all of us.”
He underscored three things that, he said, would enhance this relationship: opportunity: seizing the opportunity and inclusive, sustainable growth.
First, he said while the consensus supporting democracy and universal rights in the region “has never been stronger,” there are “plenty of challenges,” identifying, among them, transnational crime, “backsliding democracies,” continuing inequality and poverty, and inadequate education.
“Our policies must continue to address each of them,” said Nides, stating, at the same time, that out of nearly 600 million people living in the region, 56 million households have joined the ranks of the middle class over just the last 15 years.
“And, if current trends continue, the region’s per capita income will double by 2025. That’s remarkable,” he added.
“We believe in the power of proximity. Geography matters. Forty-three percent of all U.S. exports stay in this hemisphere,” he continued, noting that the United States exports more than three times as much to the region as it does to China.
Nides said this means that each dollar of growth in the region “creates greater opportunities” for the U.S.
“And so the question is not whether this hemisphere matters to our economic future, it does — but how can we make sure it creates jobs in the United States; and how can we sustain and broaden the economic progress unfolding in the Americas?” he asked.
The top State Department official said seizing this opportunity starts with trade.
He said in the 16 years since he left U.S. Trade Representative’s Office, the region’s economy has “changed substantially.”
He said, in the past, America sent manufactured goods to the region, and purchased commodities. Today, he said, the US is “making things together that create jobs for both of us.”
Nides noted that President Barack Obama has made it a priority “across the whole of government” to double America’s exports in five years, stating that the U.S. has a “unique role to play as the largest economy” in the hemisphere.
He said while it is true that the U.S. is not the only major investor in the region, it is “in a better position than any other power to engage with the region and seize future opportunities together.”
Nides said, as the region’s economies want to modernize, diversify, and move up the value chain, the U.S. will be “their partner of choice for many years to come.
“We have broader, healthier, more balanced relationships,” he said. “Our economies are more complementary. Our ties are stronger.”
Nides also said as the U.S. promotes the efforts of American businesses across Latin America and the Caribbean, it also have to “take the long view.
“The people of this hemisphere are not just our neighbors—they are future customers and trading partners,” he said.
“They are the building blocks for stable, successful societies that can work with us to solve global problems –not to mention regional challenges like crime with violence that spills into the cities of the United States,” he stressed.
Nides lamented, however, that, while growth in the region has lifted tens of millions into the middle class, there are still many groups left behind—especially indigenous peoples, women, and isolated rural communities.
In this nexus, he said the U.S. is, therefore, partnering with governments, businesses, and other institutions to “break down barriers to social mobility” in the region.
“Across the region, we are pursuing new venues and partnerships to advance our shared goals—from trade deals to police training to clean energy partnerships,” he said, pointing out that one important test will be the Summit of the Americas, in six months, in Cartagena.
He said the U.S. will be working to build momentum to the Summit a success.
“Public-private partnerships are essential. Neither government nor business can have the impact we need without these partnerships,” Nides affirmed.
“Secretary (Hillary) Clinton said we are living at a moment when economics is at the heart of what it means to lead in this world. What is economic is strategic, and what is strategic is economic,” he added.