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37th Annual Washington Conference on the Americas

May 01, 2007

Building the Americas Consensus
37th Annual Washington Conference on the Americas
May 1-2, 2007
 
Introduction

Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and key Western Hemisphere ministers explored issues at the forefront of the U.S.-Western Hemisphere agenda during the 37th Annual Washington Conference on the Americas. The May 1-2 conference, entitled Building the Americas Consensus, coincided with greater interest in the Americas—two Latin American heads of state recently visited Washington and President Bush traveled to five Latin American countries in March.  Approximately 40 members of the press attended from media outlets throughout the hemisphere and Europe.

With approximately 270 high-level private sector executives and decisionmakers in attendance, leaders from across the Americas analyzed prospects for ratification of bilateral free-trade agreements, assessed financial competitiveness, and examined U.S. relations in a changing hemisphere. Annually, the Council of the Americas’ signature forum looks at some of the most pressing issue on the hemispheric agenda. Speakers at this year’s conference included:

  • Álvaro Uribe, President, Colombia
  • Mercedes Araoz, Minister of Foreign Trade and Tourism, Peru
  • Agustín Carstens, Secretary of Finance and Public Credit, Mexico
  • David Emerson, Minister of International Trade, Canada
  • Carlos Gutierrez, U.S. Secretary of Commerce
  • Chuck Hagel, U.S. Senator
  • John Negroponte, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State
  • Henrique de Campos Meirelles, Governor, Central Bank, Brazil
  • Rodrigo de Rato, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund
  • Thomas Shannon, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Background

The Council of the Americas’ Washington Conference is the premiere event in the nation’s capital focusing on the Americas and has consistently brought together senior corporate executives with the highest level of speakers. It fosters greater understanding and relationship building among private sector leaders by providing a platform for top government, industry and policy leaders to engage in substantive analysis on timely themes important to the hemisphere.

Recent conferences have focused on themes of importance to both private sector attendees and the broader citizenry of the Americas. Last year, “Creating Jobs, Building Hope: The Hemispheric Growth Agenda in a Changing World” featured comments and analysis by President Tabaré Vázquez of Uruguay, Central Bank President Martín Redrado of Argentina, and then-Secretary of Foreign Affairs Luis Ernesto Derbez of Mexico, among others.  In 2005, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, Brazilian Minister of Development, Industry and Commerce Luiz Fernando Furlan, and others joined the Council of the Americas to discuss “Strengthening Competitiveness, Creating Prosperity.”  In 2004, among other speakers, President Oscar Berger of Guatemala, then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, then-U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, and others addressed policies for "Building the Case for Partnership in the Americas.” 

Summary

What is the “Americas consensus?”  Washington Conference speakers approached our central theme from the financial, social, and political perspectives, proposing concrete actions for moving forward with the Americas agenda. While each speaker looked at the issue from a different angle, one important message permeated throughout each presentation: the importance and need for deeper hemispheric engagement. 

President Uribe calls for free-trade agreement passage and re-authorization of Plan Colombia

Colombian President Uribe emphasized his country’s commitment to peace and prosperity. The

"My government has not created an alliance with criminal groups."
-President Uribe of Colombia

U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement will solidify economic and social achievements of the past few years and provide Colombia with the economic security needed for greater long-term investment and employment generation. He asked the U.S. Congress not to turn its back on Colombia or the region.

The President also emphatically denied any wrongdoing in the ongoing investigation of government ties with paramilitaries. Committed to an open government, he repeatedly stated that the investigation will be fully transparent and will bring those involved to justice. Uribe highlighted his efforts to bring security to Colombia and to protect citizens from violence. Congressional re-authorization of Plan Colombia is a key factor in his administration’s ability to continue to combat crime and narcotics trafficking.

New Consensus on Investment

Mexican Secretary of Finance and Public Credit Agustín Carstens, IMF Managing Director Rodrigo de Rato, and Brazilian Central Bank Governor Henrique de Campos Meirelles called for a new look at current and emerging financial relationships and trends. Not only are we witnessing globalization in trade and manufacturing, but the financial sector is increasingly inter-locked between countries. Prosperity and economic opportunity depend on a stable financial system that can absorb and respond to changing global conditions.  Rato, among other speakers, was quick to point out the need to reduce vulnerability to economic shocks through a combination of flexible exchange rates and sound fiscal policy.

U.S.  Policy in the Western Hemisphere

“What you see is a keen interest on the part of most countries in the region to develop and strengthen their relationship with the United States and to do the same with each other.” 
-Assistant Secretary Thomas Shannon

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon, and Senator Chuck Hagel were united in their desire to build relationships and strengthen partnerships throughout the hemisphere. The development of not only bilateral, but multilateral relationships is an integral part of the policy agenda that will foster regional growth and prosperity. For Assistant Secretary Shannon, increased dialogue and cooperation will serve as building blocks for greater political, social, and economic development. 

“Sooner or later these policies will fail.”
-U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte in reference to Venezuela’s current spending outside the country despite continued domestic poverty

For those not following the path of democracy, speakers believed that the time is approaching when change will become inevitable. U.S.  Secretary of State John Negroponte noted that “our partners [will soon] begin the long process of restoring a free Cuba to its place in the inter-American system.”  Senator Chuck Hagel also spoke about U.S.-Cuba policy, calling on the U.S. to rethink its current policy and to use dialogue instead of isolation. Engagement, he said, is a better tool for establishing a democracy. Hagel also called on his congressional colleagues to pass comprehensive immigration reform by the end of the year.

Trade in the Americas

Trade is an indispensable tool for fostering entrepreneurship and furthering economic prosperity, according to Canadian Minister of International Trade David Emerson and Peruvian Minister of Foreign Trade and Tourism Mercedes Araoz. In his address, President Uribe also reinforced the importance of trade to development. The U.S., Colombian and Peruvian speakers were steadfast in their support for passage of pending free-trade agreements. Secretary Gutierrez urged Congress to pass the agreements and to help bring greater political and economic stability. According to him, “Trade does more than bring economic growth. It also serves to strengthen young democracies.” 

“The market is the best way to control labor exploitation.”
-Peruvian Minster of Foreign Trade and Tourism Mercedes Araoz

Mercedes Araoz also asked the U.S. Congress to pass her country’s pending trade agreement. She warned that Peru may face economic hardships without a permanent bilateral agreement in place. Rejection of the agreement would carry far greater political implications and serve as a “threat for the region.” Canadian Minister Emerson highlighted the inter-connectedness between trade and investment. Trade relationships are beneficial for economic growth and poverty reduction and for strengthening political and social partnerships across countries.

Upcoming Events

The Council of the Americas regularly hosts high-level government officials, private sector representatives, media, academics, and others to look critically at the issues facing the Americas. In addition to regularly scheduled meetings in Washington, New York and Miami, the Council of the Americas together with the Americas Society will be convening in-country meetings in: La Paz, Bolivia (June 8); Bogotá, Colombia (June 28); San Salvador, El Salvador (July 18); Buenos Aires, Argentina (August 7); Montevideo, Uruguay (August 10); Santiago, Chile (August 28); and Lima, Peru (November 8). The Mexico City conference, entitled Mexico in the Global Economy, was held on March 28. Please continue to check the Council of the Americas website for updated registration information: http://www.as-coa.org

This summary is published by the Council of the Americas, a non-partisan organization founded to promote better understanding and dialogue in the Western Hemisphere. The Council of the Americas is a business league under I.R.C. Section 501(c) (6). The positions and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors or guest commentators and speakers and do not represent those of the Council of the Americas or its members or the Boards of Directors. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the Council of the Americas.