Remarks at the White House Conference on Connecting the Americas

By:  Hillary Clinton
Date: April 12, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

Thank you all, thank you. I am delighted to have a chance to address you today. I know you've had a busy and active set of encounters and discussions. But it is a special treat for me to be here. I thank you, John, for that introduction, because you and many in this audience have held fast to a vision of partnership in the Americas even when some people may have had a hard time seeing it or understanding it, because it is so important that we keep our eyes on the horizon about what is possible and continue to work toward achieving it.
It was that potential which inspired 18 years ago the very first Summit of the Americas. I remember it very well when my husband announced in this building -- somewhere but not in this brand new conference center -- that the United States would host the first-ever gathering of democratically elected leaders from throughout the Western Hemisphere. He talked then about our "unique opportunity to build a community of free nations, diverse in culture and history, but bound together by a commitment to responsive and free government, vibrant civil societies, open economies, and rising living standards for all of our people."

Well, that opportunity that was spoken about 18 years ago has really been born into reality. The people and the societies of the Americas have done so much to realize it. And that may be exemplified by the place where President Obama and I will head tomorrow for the sixth Summit of the Americas. I think that if we look back on the work we have done through the last years to support Colombia, it's quite remarkable where Colombia stands today.

Now, first and foremost, of course, the credit goes to the heroic effort of Colombia's people and government, but it's had steadfast U.S. support. And so leaders from the entire hemisphere will gather in Cartagena with an agenda focused not on how we overcome a threat, but how we seize a unique opportunity.

As much as our hemisphere has changed, it is not alone in that experience. The world has changed so much, and we have to do a very honest assessment about where the United States stands in our efforts to realize the potential of these partnerships.

Before President Obama traveled to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador last year, I did address the issue of what I called "the power of proximity" because the Americas drive our prosperity. They buy more than 40 percent of our exports -- three times as much as China. They provide more than half our imported energy. They are home to a growing number of global players with a central role in building new architectures of cooperation that defend our interests and our values. Their record of democratic development has global resonance at a time when democratic models and partners are needed more than ever. And our historic and deepening interdependence gives the Americas a singular importance to our people, our culture, and our society.

So harnessing that power of proximity is one of the most strategically significant tasks facing our foreign policy in the years ahead. I think the same can be true for our neighbors, because the power of proximity runs in both directions, and we together must harness it. We must turn the Americans, already a community of shared history, geography, culture, and values, into something greater -- a shared platform for global success.

That has been the principle behind the Obama Administration's focus on building equal partnerships, and it will be the message that the President takes to the Summit. We will look to translate our strategic vision into concrete steps. As our Colombian hosts have shown, those steps must be all about building connections among our governments, our businesses, our markets, our educational institutions, our societies and citizens.

Now, when we think about connecting the Americas, we start with our shared agenda for competitiveness and innovation. After all, this hemisphere is home not just to the United States' biggest trading partners, but also to the dynamic emerging economies. Brazil and Mexico are projected to become top-five global economies in coming decades. Countries like Colombia, Chile, Peru, Uruguay, Panama have found recipes for strong growth. That has major implications for jobs right here. U.S. exports in this hemisphere were up 24 percent last year. President Obama set a goal of doubling exports in five years and we are well on the way to doing that. But what it means for Latin America and the new middle class is that half of all households are now in the middle class. That number could grow to three-quarters within 20 years.

Our free trade agreements and economic diplomacy capitalize on this two-way market. Thanks to the FTAs we ratified last year with Colombia and Panama, as John said, our trade partnerships run uninterrupted from the Arctic to Patagonia. We have signed a slew of agreements on economic cooperation and investment with Brazil and others. The Trans-Pacific Partnership that we are negotiating includes Chile and Peru. It's also received strong interest from Canada and Mexico.

What's notable is not just the scale, but the makeup of hemispheric trade. It consists of value-added products that create jobs and drive innovation. Production and design span borders, like the LearJet, which a Canadian company builds in the United States with Mexican-manufactured parts. This is high-quality trade, and high-quality trade means competitiveness for all of our companies.

Now, that's good, but it's not good enough. For when we compare ourselves to the most dynamic global regions, we still have a ways to go. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates that hemispheric trade is only half of what it could and should be. There are still too many barriers, whether uncoordinated regulations or inadequate infrastructure, that limit our potential. And in the face of rising competition, especially from Asia, we have to up our game.

That should begin with building new, more productive ties among entrepreneurs, companies, and markets. In Cartagena, we're joining with business leaders to create a sustained private sector effort that will coordinate with and complement the work of governments. We're intensifying our focus on small- and medium-sized enterprises, especially those started and run by women. They account, after all, for 90 percent of Latin American businesses and two-thirds of Latin American jobs, yet they have little access to the tools, financing, and partnerships that could help them thrive. In the United States just 1 percent of small and medium-sized enterprises access global markets. So by building links among these businesses, we can turn them into engines of job growth and prosperity.

We also have to do better when it comes to the technology that makes connectivity possible. This hemisphere's young people have embraced technology and new media in huge numbers. But their ambitions have not been matched by the infrastructure and access that can drive real progress. Broadband costs more than three times more in Latin America than the OECD average. That's a serious drag on development. So we're going to try to leverage technology to enhance opportunity.

And as you look at innovation, we need to consider it in the long-term, and that means the hemisphere has to do more to provide better financing, deeper ties between scientists and institutions. We require more private initiatives like the announcements from Boeing and GE that they will establish research and technology centers in Brazil. We have to empower all of our citizens to take advantage of the new economy.

That brings me to the second area where we need to connect more: education. America's record in education is really commendable, but our record in exchanges in education throughout the hemisphere leaves a lot to be desired. We need to leverage the skills of young people. Building those connections will be key to that. When President Rousseff met with President Obama earlier this week, they advanced our joint commitment to educational exchanges under our 100,000 Strong in the Americas and Brazil's Science Without Borders. These are initiatives that will send thousands of students to train in universities in one another's countries throughout the hemisphere. Now businesses have to do their part because they have to help us develop the skilled workforce that we seek and we will try to build those private sector partnerships in Cartagena.

We'll also build connections in a third area: energy. Now, massive oil finds are being developed in Brazil while countries like Colombia and Canada are expanding production. And new methods have unlocked natural gas everywhere from the United States to Argentina. Smaller countries like Trinidad and Tobago are gas refiners and providers. And the progress is as striking in green energy, whether it's Mexican advances in energy efficiency, Chilean innovations in geothermal, or the work on bio-fuels we're doing with Brazil.

We've made energy a priority of our foreign policy and in February I signed a historic trans-boundary oil agreement with Mexico. We started high-level energy dialogues with producers. And just this week, President Obama and President Rousseff agreed to collaborate on deep water oil and gas operations. Under the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas, launched by President Obama at the Summit of the Americas in 2009, we have leveraged already more than $150 million in government investment to support more than 40 initiatives.

There's no doubt the Western Hemisphere is capable of producing cleaner, cheaper, more reliable energy to support growth here and globally, but in order to do that, we have to build a truly hemispheric network of our energy sectors. Connected markets would bring economies of scale, stable supplies, efficiency, and more use of renewables. That work we will also launch in Cartagena. And we will do what we can to help create a future of sustainable, affordable energy for all in the Americas.

Now progress within the hemisphere gives the Americas a new global profile. When I talk with foreign ministers -- I've just finished the G8 ministers meeting here in Washington -- whether I'm talking climate change or global growth and trade or nonproliferation, U.S.-Latin America relationships really matter to these global issues.

Peru and Chile have become key partners in the Pacific. Colombia is leading on citizen security globally and, with Guatemala, is one of our closest current partners on the Security Council. Uruguay contributes the most per capita to peacekeeping of any nation in the world. Costa Rica aims to become the first carbon-neutral country. Canada is one of our most important allies in diplomatic and security efforts. And nearly every country in the hemisphere stepped up to support Haiti.

This global activism carries tremendous strategic benefits. And at the summit, it is time to add an outward looking dimension to our connections, because our global engagements will be crucial to our success in the hemisphere. Now being global partners, I will hasten to say, does not mean we'll always agree; that's not the case. But it reflects a faith that even when we disagree, convergent interests and values give us important shared objectives in the world.

Now President Obama and I have said many times that this will be America's Pacific century, and we are focused on the broader Pacific. But remember, the Pacific runs from the Indian Ocean to the western shores of Latin America. We see this as one large area for our strategic focus. That's why we're working with APEC; that's why we're creating the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We recognize the mutual benefits of engagement between the Americas and the rest of the Pacific.

Our global partnership also extends into the G20, which includes Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and Mexico, which will host the next meeting in June. And Mexico has been a leader in the climate change negotiations from Copenhagen to Cancun to Durban. Chile has joined Mexico to become the second Latin American member of the OECD and others are lined up to follow.

When I go to Brasilia next week, my conversations there will center on the major challenges of our day from Syria and Iran to growth and development. And I will join President Rousseff to co-chair a meeting of the Open Government Partnership, a joint effort to foster transparency and accountability among 54 governments, and a quarter of them are from Latin America and the Caribbean.

So we have an affirmative agenda that is forward-thinking and outward-looking. It reflects what we can do together in this hemisphere. But at the same time, we must be clear about where we can and should do better. We cannot afford to be complacent. So we have to commit to further progress against exclusion and lack of opportunity. Yes, the region has come a long way, thanks to a lot of smart social and economic policies. I applaud the work that has been done on many of the quite pioneering programs of conditional cash transfer and so much else. But the gap -- the inequality gap -- is still much too large. So we have to focus on economic policies that will close that gap. And we have to pay particular attention to women and indigenous and Afro-Latin communities, so that they, too, are part of the future we envision.

We have to protect democracy. It's no accident that this hemisphere's successes have come along with a nearly complete embrace of democracies. The Inter-American Democratic Charter enshrines democracy as a fundamental responsibility of governments and a right of all citizens. So we have to strengthen the capacity of the Organization of American States to defend democracy and human rights.

And of course, we have to address crime and insecurity. From the start of this Administration, we've have made it clear that the United States accepts our share of responsibility for the criminal violence that stalks our neighbors to the south. We tripled funding for demand reduction for illegal drugs to more than $10 billion a year. We strengthened the Merida Initiative in Mexico, the Central American Citizen Security Partnership, the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, our ongoing assistance to Colombia.

And our support is focused not just on helping security forces track down criminals; we're working to address the root causes of violence, from impunity to lack of opportunity, to build accountable institutions that respect human rights and enhance the rule of law. Courts and prisons, police and prosecutors, schools and job-training centers, and building those partnerships with political leaders, but also with businesses and with the elite, who have a special obligation to help confront these challenges. I really applaud the progress that President Perez Molina has made in Guatemala, in just the first few months of his tenure, in tax reform. The fact that so many of the wealthy in Latin America have not paid their fair share of taxes is one of the reasons why the services that are necessary to protect citizen security, to enhance educational opportunities have not been available.

I understand the frustration in the region is high; the progress is viewed as being too slow. We have launched very open and frank dialogues with our partners to find ways that we can be of more assistance in supporting the reform efforts that are necessary.

But ultimately, a lot of this comes down to the connections between people. We have to be willing to do everything we can imagine to forge those connections. We have a lot of them already: blood and family, language and culture, history and geography, but there's a lot more we can and must do. And we should act even when governments are not willing to partner with us.

In Cuba, for example, the hundreds of thousands of Cuban Americans who have travelled to the island since we eased the way for them early in this Administration are our best agents for change. They've already helped bring about some promising developments, especially in the economic arena. So we have to work to unleash the potential that we see in our hemisphere. And it truly is an exciting opportunity for the United States and equally for all the nations of the hemisphere.

When President Obama and I went to that first of his summits three years ago, it was exciting because I remembered the first summit that we had in Miami. I'm old enough to remember a lot of those things these days. (Laughter.) And I remember the generational look of that summit when, frankly, my husband was about the youngest leader, as I recall, or looked like it anyway. (Laughter.) Whereas now, there are young leaders with new ideas who are working hard on behalf of their country. There are women elected president, something which you know I think is a great advance. (Laughter and applause.)

And so the whole picture is one of great promise and opportunity and excitement, so I know that both the President and I are excited about going back to the summit. We're sure there'll be some surprises, as there always are at such large events. But more than that, there will be a palpable sense of the connections between and among us. And to me, that is worth everything -- to build on those connections, to connect us in a way that really provides what we are all seeking, to help people live up to their God-given potential, to enshrine the values and habits of democracy, to lift people who have a generation or so before been mired in illiteracy and poverty into the middle class. It doesn't get any better than that. This is the time for the Americas. And we have to do more to reach out to convince our own fellow Americans of that opportunity, and we have to -- those of us in government or in academia or business or NGOs -- be partners in making these connections real.

I'm looking forward to the work ahead, and I thank you so much for your interest in the abiding partnerships here in our hemisphere. Thank you very much. (Applause.)