Opening Remarks by United States Assistant Secretary of State Peter Romero at the XVII Meeting of the Summit Implementation Review Group
[November 19, 1999, Washington D.C.]
I am pleased to see such a large and high level turn out for this meeting of the Summit Implementation Review Group. Recent developments have reminded us that the assumptions on which we built the Santiago Action Plan can not be taken for granted. We, in this hemisphere are facing unprecedented economic and political challenges. We have broad and strong consensus on the fundamental Summit goals, to strengthen democratic institutions and open markets, but we need to turn principles into tangible improvements in peoples lives.
In some ways the Summit process has never been so important. The negotiations on a hemispheric Free Trade Area have just passed an important milestone. The nine negotiating groups completed their outlines of the respective chapters in a comprehensive agreement. Now they face the daunting task of writing those chapters for a draft agreement. But despite difficulties ahead, I am confident we will succeed by 2005 because of the deep commitment of our governments to hemispheric free trade.
The Clinton Administration remains committed to negotiating a comprehensive agreement for a Free Trade Area of the Americas. The lack of fast-track legislation is not a problem at this time for the FTAA negotiations. I would like to point out that the Administration does not need authority from Congress to negotiate trade agreements, a fact sometimes missed by the press. I am confident that we will have fast-track legislation when we need it in the concluding phase of the negotiations.
The recent financial crisis slowed economic growth for most of the Hemisphere. It hurt many Latin American countries by depressing prices for commodities, hurting their terms of trade, and slowing foreign investment. Several countries in the hemisphere are still recovering from the impact of that financial crisis. Higher rates of unemployment pose an important issue that we need to address. Some governments are also struggling to recover from natural disasters caused by El Nino, earthquakes and hurricanes. Governments with budget deficits and heavy debt burdens are finding themselves hard pressed to respond to these problems.
These stresses and strains make our hemispheric meetings more important than ever. Our ministers of labor are scheduled to meet in January in the Dominican Republic. The hemisphere's ministers of finance will meet in Mexico in February and the ministers of justice will meet in March in Costa Rica. The agendas planned for these meetings are designed to identify common problems and shared solutions. We can help each other through troubled times, through the strains of adjusting to an increasingly integrated, global economy. Together we can attack the scourge of drug trafficking, terrorism and international crime.
I am convinced that the Summit process has greatly increased knowledge and understanding of our American neighbors within the United States. In turn, this contributed to the decision to give over a billion dollars for hurricane and earthquake relief and reconstruction in Latin America. I am pleased that my government was able to move quickly with relief assistance immediately after the hurricanes struck and that the U.S. Congress supported a large emergency appropriation to contribute to the reconstruction effort. I know that some of those funds are being used for land and urban planning so as to reduce the damage caused by natural disasters in the future.
Our greater understanding of Latin America has helped convince the U.S. Congress of the merits of enhancing the Caribbean Basin Initiative. The Senate has approved trade legislation that would expand the Caribbean Basin Initiative. Differences with the trade legislation approved by the House of Representatives still need to be reconciled but we hope this can be done early in the year 2000.
We have demonstrated our commitment to the goals and objectives of the Santiago Action Plan in many ways. The Vital Voices Conference we sponsored with the Inter-American Development Bank in October 1998 in Montevideo generated a series of additional meetings, workshops, and networks. That Conference was designed to encourage women to take leadership positions in government, in business community and in civil society. I am proud to say that the U.S. embassies throughout the Americas have been instrumental in continuing this process. Recently, we supported a Vital Voices Conference for women of the Caribbean region. The United State is proud to have supported the just completed "Women's Economic Summit of the Americas" in Buenos Aires. It also grew out of the Vital Voices Conference.
My government is committed to support the newly created Justice Studies Center of the Americas with a one million dollar grant to get the Center started. The United States hosted the first meeting of the Inter-American Committee on Terrorism in Miami. We expect the new Committee to be an important tool against terrorism throughout this hemisphere.
The Summits have produced many important and tangible accomplishments. We will continue to support efforts to strengthen ties among our governments and integration of our economies. We are pleased that the Canadian government has begun to plan the next meeting of our heads of state for the Spring of 2001. With the many changes of government occurring in this hemisphere, it will be important to renew and reaffirm our commitments to the Summit goals and the specific objectives of our Action Plans. My government will continue to support the implementation of the Santiago Action Plan even as we begin to focus on appropriate initiatives for the Quebec Plan of Action.
I am pleased to introduce our new Senior Summit Coordinator and my new Principal Deputy, Ambassador Lino Gutierrez. Ambassador Gutierrez was deeply involved in negotiating the Miami Summit declaration and plan of action and has most recently served as our ambassador to Nicaragua. Ambassador Gutierrez will be with you for the rest of the day to co-chair this meeting.