Poised to expand its free-trade network in Latin America, the United States on Wednesday pressed governments of the region to ensure that all of their citizens benefit from the increased prosperity that expanded commerce offers. The Obama administration offered $17.5 million in American assistance toward that goal.
Speaking at a regional economic conference in the Dominican Republic, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she expected Congress to approve a set of new trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama quickly, alongside a program that would help American workers and businesses adjust to the stresses that globalization create.
Clinton urged the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean to similarly offer capital and educational opportunities for people "at the lowest levels of the economic ladder" as their economies grow through greater access to global markets. She said the United States would put up the new money for infrastructure assistance, support for female entrepreneurs and other projects aimed at fostering "inclusive economic growth."
Clinton said she was confident that Latin America, as a region, would continue its recent trend of impressive growth.
"My question is: Will that growth include more and more people?" Clinton asked. "Will that prosperity reach down into the middle class and the poor? Will more families realize their own dreams?"
Started in 2005, the Pathways to Prosperity event Clinton was attending aims at precisely such goals. Seventeen countries were attending this fourth gathering in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo, with the U.S. debates in Washington over the proposed trade agreements highlighting the greater economic opportunities in an increasingly prosperous and stable region of the world.
Discussions centered on how to create better business environments, educate modern workforces and ensure environmental protection. Foreign ministers were also speaking about "trade facilitation," a vague concept that can encompass anything from standardized weights and sizes to automatic data processing with the emphasis on making it easier to import and export goods across borders.
Clinton said Latin American countries have developed effective programs to expand their economies while protecting labor and environmental standards. But describing some of the "most difficult challenges of our time," she said they need to ensure that poor people have access to capital so they can take their ideas and start companies and that businesses in remote places can tap into regional and international markets.