Thursday, June 6, 2013

Biden: The Americas Ascendant - 6/6/2013 - Latin American Herald Tribune

Biden: The Americas Ascendant
The spread of free trade and democracy has been a boon to the hemisphere. 

By U.S. Vice President Joe Biden

Last week, during a five-day trip through Latin America and the Caribbean, I visited a cut-flower farm outside Bogota, Colombia, an hour’s drive from downtown that would have been impossibly dangerous 10 years ago. Along the way I passed office parks, movie theaters and subdivisions, interspersed with small ranches and family businesses. At the flower farm, one-quarter of the workers are female heads of households. The carnations and roses they were clipping would arrive in U.S. stores within days, duty free.

What I saw on the flower farm was just one sign of the economic blossoming in the year since a U.S. free-trade agreement with Colombia went into force. Over that period, American exports to the country are up 20%.

The U.S. experience with Colombia reflects a larger economic boom across the Western Hemisphere that offers many exciting partnership opportunities for American business. In Rio de Janeiro, I met with Brazilian and American business leaders – representing the aerospace, energy, construction and manufacturing sectors – who laid out a remarkable vision for prosperity that spans the Americas. As these business leaders made clear, Latin America today is a region transformed. Elections that once were exceptions are now largely the norm. In a growing number of places, conflicts between left and right have given way to peaceful, practical governance. And in the process, Latin America’s middle class has grown 50% in the past decade alone. By some estimates, it is nearly the size of China’s.

There is enormous potential – economically, politically and socially – for the U.S. in its relations with countries of the Western Hemisphere. And so the Obama administration has launched the most sustained period of U.S. engagement with the Americas in a long, long time – including the president’s travel to Mexico and Costa Rica last month; my own recent trip to Colombia, Trinidad, and Brazil; Secretary of State Kerry’s participation in the Organization of American States’ annual meeting in Guatemala; the president of Chile’s visit to Washington this week and a planned visit to Washington by the president of Peru. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff arrives in Washington in October for the first state visit of the second term.

As leaders across the region work to lift their citizens out of poverty and to diversify their economies from commodity-led growth, the U.S. believes that the greatest promise – for Americans and for our neighbors – lies in deeper economic integration and openness.

The process is further along than you might think. Not only is the U.S. deepening what is already a trillion-dollar trading relationship with Mexico and Canada – we also have free-trade agreements that stretch nearly continuously from Canada to Chile.

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