Washington, D.C. May 10, 2017—U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Canada’s Minister of International Trade François-Philippe Champagne led a group of hemispheric leaders who expressed their commitment to inter-American cooperation at the 47th Annual Washington Conference on the Americas, co-organized Tuesday by the Council of the Americas and the U.S. Department of State.
Secretary Ross said the goal of the new U.S. administration is to increase overall commerce while reducing the trade deficit by counteracting what the Trump administration considers unfair trade practices. “We do not seek a trade war, least of all with our fellow citizens of the Americas,” said the secretary. He confirmed the administration will revise the more than two-decade old North American Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with neighbors Canada and Mexico, but said the United States had not determined the path negotiations will take. “We have not yet decided whether to go the trilateral route or whether to pursue two bilateral deals,” he said.
Minister Champagne made a forceful case for a progressive trade agenda that benefits all sectors of society. “We need to think differently about how we pursue trade. If we are not in the business of securing the social license to pursue an ambitious trade agenda then we will succumb to the forces opposed to it,” said the minister. “At its most basic level, progressive trade is about ensuring that all segments of society can take advantage of, and otherwise benefit from, the opportunities that flow from trade and investment."
The 47th Annual Washington Conference on the Americas, held at the U.S. Department of State, also convened U.S. Senator and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services John McCain, U.S. Senator and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere Marco Rubio, and the Governor of the State of Colorado John Hickenlooper in the first major forum on Western Hemisphere policy, trade, and security issues since the beginning of the Trump administration.
Americas Society/Council of the Americas (AS/COA) Chairman Andrés Gluski, AS/COA President and CEO Susan Segal, and AS/COA Vice President Eric Farnsworth delivered remarks at the Conference.
The event was introduced by Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Francisco Palmieri, who highlighted the importance the region continues to hold for the United States’ strategic and economic interests. “Together, with our partners, we are pursuing a shared vision: a secure, democratic, and free Hemisphere, - a region with law and order along our borders, where transnational criminal networks and pathways for illicit activity are shut down, – and a region where terrorism cannot take root. This region can be known for its peace and prosperity –— one that can and will face global challenges together,” he said.
In a moderated interview with AS/COA Chairman Emeritus John Negroponte, Senator McCain covered the issues of NAFTA renegotiation, undocumented immigrants, Central American security, and Mexico’s upcoming presidential elections. The senator called for a more active U.S. role in Venezuela’s deepening crisis. “This is an affront to anything we stand for within our own hemisphere,” he said. “If we really believe in human rights, we should have the president of the United States speaking out.”
At the conference, Senator Rubio called for U.S. engagement in the Western Hemisphere based on three equally important pillars: safety and national security, economic prosperity, and defense of U.S. values. “For far too long we have neglected our partners in the region. We need to build on deepening the ties we have with countries like Canada, Mexico, and Colombia,” he said. The United States should maintain its commitment to peace and prosperity in Colombia “by reassuring the Colombian people that the United States supports the implementation of Peace Colombia, conditioned on full compliance of the agreement by the FARC,” Senator Rubio said. “And we’ll work with the government of Colombia to ensure that crimes committed by the FARC do not go unpunished and that the victims are compensated.”
Other speakers at the 47thWashington Conference on the Americas included The Washington Examiner Senior Political Analyst Michael Barone; POLITICO Chief International Affairs Columnist Susan Glasser; The Washington Post Editorial Writer Charles Lane, NDN President and Founder Simon Rosenberg, and Financial Times Washington Bureau Chief Demetri Sevastopulo.
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