Trade and Central America: Renewing an Agenda for Sustainable Development

A panel convened by COA’s Trade Advisory Group discussed, among other topics, how to modernize the CAFTA-DR agreement.


  • Juan José Daboub, President, ThinkHUGE Business and Investment Council
  • Barbara Kotschwar, Executive Director, Visa Economic Empowerment Institute, Visa U.S.A. Inc.
  • Antonio Ortiz-Mena, Senior Vice President, Albright Stonebridge Group
  • Eric Farnsworth, Vice President, Americas Society/Council of the Americas (moderator)

“We need to make the American dream in each of our countries: El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras,” said Juan José Daboub, the president of the ThinkHUGE Business and Investment Council, to kick off a Trade Advisory Group panel on the future of trade in Central America. Moderated by AS/COA Vice President Eric Farnsworth, experts spoke about how free trade and economic growth can help tackle issues like unemployment, migration, and corruption in the region.

Now is an ideal time for an upgrade of the free trade agreement between Central America, the Dominican Republic, and the United States, known as CAFTA-DR, “particularly with the challenges the Covid pandemic has presented and the increase in digitization,” said Barbara Kotschwar, executive director of the Visa Economic Empowerment Institute. She outlined how this agreement is in need of modernization on its digital provisions. The USMCA update of NAFTA, she said, could serve as a template on issues like data protection, fintech, and e-commerce. Albright Stonebridge Group's Antonio Ortiz-Mena discussed other areas that would be fruitful for developing through an update to CAFTA-DR, including textiles, natural gas, 5G, and green manufacturing.

The panel agreed that the future of trade in the region will require collaboration from both the private and public sectors. To spark growth, “you need the public sector’s knowledge for the local situation and then innovations by the private sector,” Kotschwar said. Trade agreements can provide security and continuity for investors in the region, prompting them to foster economic opportunities. As Daboub concluded, “If we are able to create more private-led sector jobs, economic growth will happen.”