U.S. Department of State, Bureau for Western Hemisphere Affairs

Opening Remarks by Peter F. Romero, Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, at the Summit Implementation Review Group (SIRG) Meeting

Organization of American States, Washington D.C., April 7, 2000


I want to welcome the national summit coordinators and, in particular, Ambassador Marc Lortie, the recently appointed Canadian coordinator who will guide us through the next Summit of the Americas. Today, at the 18th Summit Implementation Review Group (SIRG) meeting we can be proud that the summit process, started in 1994, has set in motion a conscientious system of follow-up. These SIRG meetings ensure that our declarations and decisions made at the summit are not only promises, but also actions.

I want to commend the national coordinators for their cooperation in providing information on the progress of summit implementation within their own nations. As a result, the five status reports by the responsible coordinators on the initiatives, which will be considered today, are better than ever. I am particularly pleased with the thorough work done by the teams that prepared the reports on property registration and migrant workers.

Though today we are reviewing the progress of the 1998 Santiago Plan of Action, we must also begin to prepare for the Quebec City Summit in 2001. The SIRG process is at a turning point. Upcoming SIRG meetings will be responsible for laying the foundations for the 2001 Quebec City Declaration and Plan of Action. We expect the Foreign Ministers in their private dialogue on June 4, in Windsor, to clearly set the path they wish the summit to take.

We live in times of economic growth and our hemisphere is blessed with the resources and skills to participate actively in the unprecedented globalization of the marketplace. Yet in the midst of this wealth, well over 180 million citizens in this hemisphere still live in poverty.  Economic growth is key to poverty reduction, but we have seen that this is not enough.

I was struck, in Chile, at President Lagos's inauguration by a remark he made. He believes in market economies but not market societies. Within our nations there exists a growing gap of inequality in education, income, technology, economic growth, and rights. Unless we work to close that gap we leave our societies vulnerable to attacks of violence, corruption, narcotics, crime, and instability. Together in Quebec we must work toward equality of opportunity within our hemisphere.

In order to share prosperity in our societies, we need to create a strategy with a focus on democracy, labor, and sustainable development. We see these issues as a priority for the Quebec City Summit because they create a framework for all of us to achieve equality of opportunity, within and among our nations.

Through these meetings and preparations for the Summit of the Americas, we should be constantly reminded of what binds us, in our constitutions and in our governments. Democracy is the system that we have chosen. Democracy is not an accident nor a consequence of fate, but the result of hard work and commitment by citizens and government who keep a watchful eye to ensure its continuation.

The strengthening and deepening of democracy is a daily task for every nation--a task that will never be fully completed. Through the Summit of the Americas, we have a forum where we can consolidate our achievements and work for our aspirations of free elections, fair judicial systems, free speech, transparency, and a better life for all our citizens. Peru will be celebrating elections soon and we look forward to a just and transparent outcome.

The success of every political system is inevitably linked to the health of the economy that accompanies it. Therefore, we cannot only look at our courts and legislatures, but we must take into account our factories and markets. Economists have just concluded something we humble diplomatic practitioners have known for some time--that a key ingredient for economic growth is good governance.  Economists have now discovered a way to account for this in their econometric models.

Increasing the incomes of our populations requires that they have the skills and the flexibility to adjust to new circumstances. Investment in the labor force, by the private sector and government, contributes to healthier economies.  This investment attracts new technology and makes workers more productive and naturally, more productive workers earn more. The Summit of the Americas can play a valuable role to ensure that the rights of workers and their families are respected. We can do this together in a manner that encourages investors to realize that the Americas offer a stable environment with respect for human values.

Though market-oriented policies are leading to unprecedented growth, we must make sure they are in harmony with our goal of sustainable development. Industry and pro-environment groups must see themselves as partners, and the Summit of the Americas is a forum for them both.

In 1998, we made a decision not to include sustainable development in the Santiago Summit, since there was a 1996 summit in Santa Cruz specific to that subject. However, it is time to reassert the importance of sustainable development within the Summit of the Americas framework, establishing priorities and identifying goals that we can accomplish within the next few years.

The SIRG process is a cornerstone to the summit framework, and as diligently as we followed the Miami and Santiago Summits with SIRG meetings, we must establish the same rigor to follow-up Quebec. These SIRG meetings will make certain that the agreements we sign in Quebec City become the realities we envision.  

To make the SIRG process even more efficient, we recommend that the negotiators in Quebec create a Plan of Action that has a more manageable number of initiatives. We must create a workable Plan of Action, and not a colossal proposal that becomes more unwieldy with each summit.

As we begin to draft the next Plan of Action we encourage the SIRG to identify definitive action items. Priorities must be established and these priorities must be drawn from those core summit values of democracy, human rights, and economic development.

The Western Hemisphere is vitally important to U.S. security and economic well-being. The U.S. will continue to support democracy, development, and economic growth throughout the region and for that reason we reaffirm our commitment to achieve an agreement on a Free Trade Area of the Americas in 2005.

We look forward to working with all of you as we prepare for the Quebec City Summit and afterward, as we follow through on the commitments made by our Heads of State in Quebec City.