Remarks by Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty III
New Orleans Transportation Ministerial
December 14, 1998

As prepared for delivery

Mr. Secretary, Mr. Mayor, thank you for your kind words and that warm introduction. To the distinguished Transportation Ministers, members of the diplomatic community, business and community leaders from Louisiana and throughout the hemisphere, es un gran placer estar con ustedes ... en Nueva Orleans.

And I am particularly grateful to be here with my good friend Rodney Slater. Secretary Slater has played a key role in so many important Administration priorities, and he understands the importance of international trade and cooperation to our economic growth at home.

Mr. Mayor, your eloquence and hospitality is almost enough to make me give up my prepared text and improvise -- which I suppose is appropriate for the birthplace of jazz. It's a real accomplishment to get this stodgy Arkansas businessman tapping his foot to your energy and vision. Like your father before you, you have a gift for leadership and public service. You have worked hard to make New Orleans the Encuentro de las Americas, and you are clearly succeeding.

In the 1800s William Thackeray described New Orleans as "the city of the world where you can eat and drink the most and suffer the least." The Crescent City is magical. Mr. Secretary, given the number of trips I have made to Latin America, I can assure you that you picked a city that will make our Latin visitors feel at home.

Like the Americas, New Orleans is a city of rich cultural diversity, with French, Spanish, African, Caribbean, and Latino influences. It should be no surprise, then, that Louisiana politicians work hard to offer something for everyone. Former Governor Earl Long once gave a speech to a small community that was half Baptist and half Catholic. "When I was a youth," he told the audience," I hitched up the wagon every Sunday morning and drove one set of grandparents to the Catholic church and my other set of grandparents to the Baptist church." As you might expect, the governor was very well received in that town, but on the way back, a young aide said, "Governor, I didn't know you had Catholic grandparents." The governor replied: "Heck, we didn't even have a wagon."

I assure you that it is not necessary to resort to that kind, of exaggeration about the opportunities to bring the Americas closer together. The facts are compelling enough.

We have seen a quiet revolution in the Americas that in many ways is no less dramatic than the fall of the Berlin Wall.

• Thirty years ago half of the region was ruled by authoritarian governments or dictators; today 34 out of the 35 countries are democratic. Cuba is the only regrettable exception.

• Ten years ago, Argentina's annual inflation rate was 5,000 percent. Today it is 0.3 percent, with an average growth rate of over five percent. Last year in Brazil, Secretary of Finance Pedro Malan told President Clinton and our cabinet that inflation was still five percent. The difference is that's an annual figure, not a weekly one.

• U.S. Trade with the Americas is booming, growing three times faster than with any other region in the world. We trade $1 billion a day with Canada, and Mexico recently passed Japan as our second largest trading partner. The United States exports more to Brazil than we do to China, and trade and tourism with the Caribbean are at record levels.

• Venezuela is the United States' top energy supplier, and three of our top four sources of energy are in the western hemisphere.

• And from a security standpoint, regional cooperation is the norm rather than the exception. Argentina and Brazil have renounced their nuclear arms race; Peru and Ecuador are at peace; and the countries of Central America have replaced civil war with civil society and democratic elections.

It has been almost two centuries since Simon Bolivar first dreamed of democratic Pan-American cooperation. In 1994, President Clinton took advantage of this quiet revolution to revive Bolivar's dream by inviting the hemisphere's democratic leaders to the Miami Summit of the Americas. There we laid the groundwork for increased cooperation on trade, the environment, and economic development; for strengthening democracy and negotiating peace agreements; and for sharing resources to improve education and advance human rights and the rule of law. This spring the heads of state met again in Santiago, Chile, renewing their commitment to cooperation, applauding progress made, and reaching for new concrete objectives. I would be remiss if I did not call attention to the important role that Florida Governor Lawton Chiles played in building the road from Miami to Santiago. He was a good friend of the hemisphere and a great American. His death is particularly tragic because he had been discussing a role in the Administration with President Clinton to play a greater role in the western hemisphere.

This transportation ministerial here today shows that we accomplished something else very important. We have built an effective institution - the Summit Process - that guarantees continued communication and cooperation, not just for heads of state every few years, but for their cabinet members and staff on a regular basis. I know that Secretary Slater's staff has had an enjoyable and productive experience working on this conference with their counterparts from around the hemisphere. The same is true with our trade ministries, defense departments, energy ministries, and many of the other departments. Those new personal relationships will endure, making future cooperation easier and broadening our mutual respect and understanding.

Henry Ford, who made a modest contribution to the transportation industry, used to say that meeting together is a start, staying together is progress, working together is success. We met together in Miami, we stayed together through Santiago, and this ministerial shows that we are working together to make hemispheric integration a success.

Ever since Bolivar's heroic trip across the Andes from Venezuela into Colombia, Latin American leaders have understood the importance of transportation. Whether you use tugboats or fiber optics, transportation is the tool we use to bring people and goods together. From selling cars to building natural gas pipelines, I have been involved in transportation all of my life. Even my time as the President's Special Envoy for the Americas involved transportation - fifty-plus trips to Latin America over the last three years, which have made me a connoisseur of Latin American airports.

So I feel fairly well qualified to say that transportation is the foundation of all trade. Midwest grain is shipped by barge; Brazilian oil is delivered by tanker, pipeline, and truck; Venezuelan flowers and Caribbean tourists travel by air; and, increasingly, human expertise and financial services travel in cyberspace. Efficient transportation increases trade. As a product of the private sector, heading a third generation family business and a New York Stock Exchange company, I can tell you that time really is money. When your product is sitting on a dock, in a warehouse, or in a truck at a border crossing, you are not making money. Your customers are not happy, your employees make less money, and the economy is inefficient.

Bolivia announced a major rail privatization project today, and many other countries have taken important steps toward privatization. But just as state-run projects can be inefficient, the private sector cannot do it all alone. We need public-private partnerships within and across national boundaries to build the transportation system of the twenty-first century. Why across national boundaries? In many countries, the roadmap looks like a spider's web with one or two large cities in the center. But with international trade increasing, there are few good roads connecting cities in one country to commercial centers in another. The Panama Canal - another dream of Bolivar's - has made an enormous contribution to economic growth and integration. We all benefit from better transportation. Look no further than the U.S.-Mexico border, where booming road traffic has outgrown the border-crossing infrastructure and created long delays for trucks. It is in both countries' interests to fix the problem.

We also need to enhance the human element of transportation - ensuring that our people have the education necessary to manage modem transportation. High-tech container ships, computer tourist reservations, and streamlined customs regulations require top-level human skills. Without good educational systems, the best transportation infrastructure will be under-used or even useless.

Advanced technology and global markets are not ends in themselves, but tools we can use to make businesses more productive, employees better-compensated and more secure, and our communities more prosperous and self-confident.

There is a tendency to resist the new global economy as an almost alien force, and as a separate way of life that will separate our businesses, our people and our communities into winners and losers. Some think of the new economy as a threshing floor in which high-tech companies will gain, and low tech companies will suffer; highly educated workers will prosper and poorly educated workers will fall behind; and a few exciting and well-positioned places such as Silicon Valley and the stock exchanges in Sao Paolo and Santiago will become exciting centers of global commerce and the rest of us will become backwaters holding our own in a shrinking part of a shrinking world.

The people who have these fears remind me of the Congressman who had been in Washington for almost forty years. A young reporter said, "Boy, you sure have seen a lot of changes in your career." He replied, "Yep, and I've been against every single one of 'em."

These preconceptions against change are dead wrong, and each is a self-imposed obstacle to progress in the twenty-first century. As Charles Darwin wrote, "It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." It is true that high-tech companies and workers are an important leading edge, but most of them are simply offering services to the rest of us, who are making and selling the same things we did before, just more efficiently. The high-tech growth is a sign of the potential growth and profitability available to most businesses in the New Economy.

The most important barrier to entering the New Economy is not a lack of expertise it is an abundance of uncertainty fear and some fear.

Thirty-six years ago John F. Kennedy traveled to New Orleans to issue this challenge: "In the life of every nation, as in the life of every man, there comes a time when a nation stands at the crossroads; when it can either shrink from the future and retire into its shell, or can move ahead - asserting its will and its faith in an uncertain sea."

The new reality is this: in the wake of the quiet revolution I noted earlier, the people of the Americas have discovered common interests and the same hopes for a better life. We clearly share geography and the common values of family and faith. Our cultural exchanges are at record levels, and the United States has the fifth largest Hispanic population in the world. We are not discovering new values as we engage the world; they are shared values.

Today the western hemisphere stands at the crossroads. We can shrink from the future, or we can move ahead together to make the twenty-first century one that lifts up all of our people and embraces our shared values. As President Clinton said in Santiago, "The people of the Americas have launched a profound revolution of peace and freedom and prosperity. We must embrace our responsibility to make these historic forces lift the lives of all people. It is a future worthy of the new Americas in a new millennium."

Central America

Those values also unite us in compassion. The Pan-American Highway that ties us together was effectively torn in half by Hurricane Mitch in Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The human suffering is just heartbreaking. When added to the damage caused by Hurricane Georges in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, natural devastation has dealt Central America and the Caribbean a catastrophic blow.

The damage in Central America and the Caribbean is deep to U.S. interests- orderly immigration, stable democracies, and economic development at home and abroad. And these are the shared interests of our neighbors.

On Thursday I met with the Central American presidents at the Inter-American Development Bank, where we discussed ways both to respond more efficiently to these emergencies, and to lay the groundwork for a long-term rebuilding plan. President Clinton announced that he will visit Central America in February, and Vice President Gore is leading an important conference in Washington today to mobilize more public and private resources for Central America. The Memorandum of Understanding signed here this morning is an important part of that effort, and I commend each of the ministers here for their leadership.

I have been touched by the outpouring of support from Americans across the country for the flood victims in Central America. Of course, Mayor Morial, New Orleans is no stranger to hurricane damage; the port here is still partially blocked from Hurricane Georges. Americans understand these problems and are quick to respond with emergency relief. As President Clinton said last week, ayudaremos a nuestros hermanos.

The United States has pledged more than $370 million in assistance to date, and the world community has been equally generous. But emergency relief is only the first step. The United States and its allies must provide a sustained, multi-year commitment to rebuild Central American economies and stabilize democracy. We should also move forward to provide tariff relief to flood victims in the form of Caribbean Basin parity with Canada and Mexico. Known as CBI, this tariff relief will benefit Central America, U.S. consumers, and port cities such as New Orleans, who have been hurt by high taxes on Caribbean and Central American goods. In fact, New Orleans trade to the Caribbean is projected to double if CBI is passed.

Mississippi Riverboat pilot Mark Twain said "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." We know CBI is the right thing to do, but we're just sitting there. Let's pass CRI now and get back on track.

As Alan Greenspan has said, no nation can be an oasis of prosperity in this new global economy. So it is in our self-interest to help Central America and the Caribbean. But it also reflects our core values of compassion and respect for human dignity.

This, in fact, is the promise of hemispheric integration. As we strengthen our ties, our values are stronger. And as we lower the barriers that divide us, we will share mutual growth and prosperity.

I commend each of you here today for your part in that journey, and I thank you for the opportunity to be with you today.