Good afternoon. Thank you so much to Susan and Eric and the rest of the Council for this opportunity. It is a privilege to be with you today for the 47th Washington Conference of the Americas.
For the nearly 50 years you have held this conference, the Council has underscored what we also know to be true: the Western Hemisphere is and always will be a top priority for the United States.
Strong Bonds, Shared Vision
Beyond a priority, it is a privilege to work in this Hemisphere. Here, we practice foreign policy alongside partners whose interests are directly tied to ours.
With few exceptions, we are a democratic hemisphere today. Our cooperation reflects the ties between our institutions, our economies, our families, and our cultures.
More than 50 million Americans of Hispanic descent or Caribbean heritage live in the United States.
There are now more Spanish speakers in the United States than in Spain.
And, as you know well, the Americas are home to some of the most important markets for our companies.
Strong and healthy regional economies are good for both the United States and for our hemisphere.
That’s why this Administration is committed to expanding security and fostering economic growth in the region.
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.
A Key U.S. Export Market
The State Department welcomes your partnership as we continue to engage in this Hemisphere – the private sector is a critical voice and force in helping us reach our goals.
The Americas represent a key market for U.S. exports. Fortunately for us, the United States is the preferred business partner for most countries in the Western Hemisphere.
Nearly half of all goods and services exported from the United States – $669 billion worth – go north and south. That’s three times more than what we export to China, Japan, and India combined.
With the hemisphere, we are supporting the President’s four trade priorities: promoting U.S. sovereignty; enforcing U.S. trade laws; leveraging U.S. economic strength to expand our goods and services exports; and protecting U.S. intellectual property rights.
We are reviewing existing trade agreements and negotiating new bilateral ones to ensure the benefits to the United States are clear.
But, our work together expands beyond trade agreements.
We are also supporting entrepreneurs; fostering innovation; and supporting education.
We are broadening opportunities for women in business. For example, President Trump and Prime Minister Trudeau inaugurated the Canada-United States Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders just last February.
We are promoting energy diversification. Regulatory frameworks must be friendly to investors. This is what will drive development and create new opportunities for globally-competitive U.S. energy firms.
Many of you have probably worked with our dedicated officers at embassies and consulates in the region. They have helped countless companies, maybe even some of you, to promote U.S. business interests through commercial advocacy and policy engagement.
We understand that for you to do business, we must work to facilitate legitimate trade and travel between the U.S. and the Hemisphere.
There is nothing more important to us than the safety and security of the United States.
Our vision is a hemisphere home to a legal, safe, and orderly movement of goods and people. To do this, we are fighting transnational criminal networks and preventing terrorists from entering the United States.
Again, this is a shared goal with our partners. We are not – we cannot – do this alone. Together, we are working to deter criminal activity, strengthen law enforcement and rule of law, and provide alternatives to delinquency and gangs.
I know many of you in this room have watched the hemisphere closely for years, and others do business here every day.
I would like to outline some specific priority areas to illustrate how we are working to further our shared goals.
We have seen events in this hemisphere over the last year that many would not have thought possible in their lifetimes, such as the historic peace deal in Colombia which ended the region’s longest-running armed conflict.
We are supporting Colombia as it implements the peace agreement with the FARC.
President Santos is coming to Washington next week – May 17 to 19. We will talk about our work with Colombia to build a robust counternarcotics efforts and how to address the spike in coca production of the last few years.
This effort will require creating opportunities in the licit economy and confronting the conflict’s root causes.
One way in which we pursue this strategy is by supporting landmine removal in previous conflict zones through the Global Demining Initiative for Colombia.
Mexico and Canada are vital partners for us.
Despite what you may hear, the relationships we have are quite good.
Mexico and Canada understand we have to refresh some of the agreements that have governed our relationship. Both countries are ready to engage in a good-faith effort with us.
Mexico was Secretary Tillerson’s first overseas trip. He has met with his Mexican counterpart several times since assuming his position.
So have our cabinet secretaries in many areas of government, from Commerce to Treasury to Agriculture to Homeland Security to our Attorney General.
This reflects the cooperation that has been the hallmark of our relationship with Mexico for the last two decades.
We work with our colleagues in the Mexican government on priority issues – such as ensuring the smooth management of our almost 2,000 mile border and our half-trillion dollar economic relationship.
Together, we are fighting the transnational criminal organizations that smuggle drugs and exploit vulnerable Central American migrants in their dangerous journey north.
While we have some differences as we update our trade and security relationships, we manage them as friends and allies – openly, transparently, and with mutual respect.
Our strategic interest lies in our broad partnership.
The next step in these conversations will come on May 18, when Secretary Tillerson will host a meeting with Mexico on combatting organized crime.
We will also co-host a conference in Miami, along with the Department of Homeland Security and the Mexican government, on Central American Prosperity and Security.
Our companies also have deep ties with Canada, our close ally and partner.
Every day, approximately 380,000 people cross this border, as does approximately $2 billion in trade.
Prime Minister Trudeau was one of the first foreign leaders to visit President Trump when he traveled to Washington on February 13. The two leaders have spoken several times since then and have a close and respectful relationship.
On energy, Canada is a key partner as we work together to strengthen North American energy security and competitiveness.
Canada is one of the largest importers of U.S. energy, including electricity and natural gas. In 2015, Canada was our largest supplier of crude oil imports.
Just as we are in touch with Mexico, we are also in regular contact with Canada as we seek to update NAFTA through renegotiation to the benefit of all three countries.
Looking south, another priority for us is addressing the root drivers of migration originating in Central America.
To secure the U.S. southern border and protect American citizens, we must address the security, governance, and economic drivers of irregular migration and illicit trafficking.
Our efforts in these areas complement the many reform initiatives in the region, including the Northern Triangle’s own Alliance for Prosperity.
The Lourdes-Colón area of El Salvador, for instance, used to be one of the most dangerous areas in the country.
In the last eight years, we have trained more than 900 police officers – to help them conduct better investigations, to interact better with their communities. We also launched a police athletic league program that has benefitted more than 1,000 at-risk youth.
The aim? To reduce homicides in Lourdes-Colón.
And we did it. Compared to 2009 when the program started, there has been a 61 percent drop in homicides.
Last year, in 2016, while homicides in El Salvador spiked, Lourdes-Colón recorded a month with zero homicides. We are working to replicate this place-based model throughout communities in the Northern Triangle.
Looking further south down the hemisphere, there has really been a remarkable political shift.
We have a renewed commitment to U.S.-Argentine relations. President Trump hosted a very successful visit by President Macri last month.
The relationship with Peru has also strengthened. President Kuczynski was the first Latin American leader to meet with President Trump, and our countries enjoy a close relationship based on the shared values of democracy, security, and human rights.
The United States also enjoys a robust partnership with Brazil, with our leaders pursuing an economic growth agenda to create jobs and investment in both countries.
Together with Brazil and Switzerland, the U.S. launched a joint investigation into the region’s biggest corruption scandal, which surrounds Brazil’s Odebrecht.
This shows a shared, regional commitment to the democratic processes and good governance. It also underscores the value of strong law enforcement cooperation.
In the Caribbean, we also have strong ties. The United States is the primary trading partner for this region. We had a $4.6 billion trading surplus for the United States in 2016.
However, there are also risks – rising crime and endemic corruption threaten the stability of governments and deprive citizens of their basic rights to security and good governance.
In the Eastern Caribbean, we are focused on dismantling transnational criminal organizations and bolstering police professionalization.
We also promote U.S. exports and support opportunities for the private sector to invest
We focus, for example, on increasing the use of reliable, low-cost sources of energy to help spur economic development and create new opportunities for U.S. companies.
Let me turn now to Venezuela, which is experiencing a political and economic crisis.
The people of Venezuela are suffering due to their government’s authoritarian repression and poor economic management
Three-quarters of Venezuelans have lost weight in the past year because of food scarcity.
We are concerned that the government of President Maduro is violating Venezuela’s own constitution and is not allowing the opposition to have their voices heard, nor allowing them to organize in a way that expresses the views of the Venezuelan people.
Our hemisphere has come together, particularly through the Organization of American States in defense of democracy and human rights in the region. We have taken formal steps to address the situation in Venezuela by calling a minister-level meeting.
Even as the Venezuelan regime has announced its intent to withdraw from the OAS and to rewrite the Venezuelan constitution to remain in power, we know the solution to Venezuela’s problems is not less democracy, but more democracy.
Leaving the OAS will not solve Venezuela’s problems. And an autocratic, top-down authoritarian exercise dressed up as a constituent assembly, now, having already lost legitimacy at home and abroad, will not help either.
The regime remains on a collision course with its people, and with the region, as long as it refuses to listen to the voices of the Venezuelan people.
We call upon the Government of Venezuela to fulfill the commitments it has made to hold prompt elections, respect the constitution and the National Assembly, provide for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners, and tend to the humanitarian needs of the Venezuelan people.
Our hemisphere is not immune to external, global threats either – whether it be terrorism or cyber attacks.
But, we are fortunate enough that we can face them together. We can leverage our partnerships to advance globally.
Panama and Canada, for example, are active members of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.
We recently announced the creation of a cyber policy working group with Argentina, which will focus on cybersecurity issues.
In a world with more fluid borders, it is imperative we stand together to defend against these threats.
Conclusion and Thanks
We have a busy schedule ahead of us in the Hemisphere.
The United States is committed to engaging with the region based on shared priorities that are vital to the interests of our respective countries.
As business leaders and government officials who follow this Hemisphere, I thank you for your continued partnership and look forward to pressing ahead alongside you.