Ambassador Miriam Sapiro, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative

Publish Date: 
Friday, April 29, 2011

Forward Together/Avanzando Juntos/Avançando Juntos: A Conference Looking at the Changing Politics of the Americas
Monday, April 11th, 2011
Ambassador Miriam Sapiro, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative


Thank you Nelson for the very kind introduction. Nelson and I have indeed known each other for a very long time. In fact, I think the year we met is now officially classified. I’m mostly very happy to see Simon and want to thank everyone at NDN and The New Policy Institute for inviting me to join you here today. I’m extremely pleased that the agreement that Congress reached just before midnight on Friday night, has not only kept the government running, but enabled me to be here with all of you today. Let’s take a quick look at what we’ve accomplished already before we look ahead to the next several months and years. 

Our trading relationship with Latin America has increased dramatically.  We’re now exporting three times as much to the region as we do to China, and our exports to the South are growing faster than our exports to the rest of the world.  I think those are very impressive numbers that we should all be very, very proud of. Let me highlight quickly just a few of our successes over the last year so that you can see how they laid the groundwork for what we’ve done in the last few weeks, and what we hope to do in the months ahead. 

It was last spring when Antonio Patriot, Brazil’s now Foreign Minister, and I negotiated a framework agreement that averted Brazil’s imposition of approximately $800 million dollars in retaliatory counter measures on U.S. goods and for the first time intellectual property rights.  This agreement put us on a very important path forward towards resolving the cotton dispute which the WTO had sided in Brazil’s favor. We are working now with Congress to try and resolve the underlying dispute as it looks towards the 2012 Farm Bill.  In the mean time this agreement that we negotiated has removed a very important bilateral irritant from our relationship.  We used that momentum to build an even stronger bilateral relationship, and last month in conjunction with President Obama’s visit to Latin America, we signed a landmark agreement on trade and economic cooperation. We call it an ATEC, and I think in Portuguese it’s called a TECA, sounds a little better, but it’s the same agreement, and we’re both very proud of it. We’ve created a new high level dialogue that deepens our cooperation on a range of issues including intellectual property rights, including trade facilitation and including reducing technical barriers to trade, which as you know can sometimes be even more challenging to address than the tariff barriers.

On the same trip to Latin American and Central America, President Obama visited Chile, and there he and President Piñera, acknowledged the remarkable expansion of our bilateral trade relationship since we signed an FTA with that country, and it entered into force in 2004.  Two-way trade between the U.S. and Chile has increased nearly 300%, to almost $18 billion dollars today.  Further strengthening our economic cooperation, the Presidents reaffirmed their commitment to full implementation of the FTA, including achieving significant progress on intellectual property rights this year that will enable our businesses to innovate and stay competitive.

The President also visited El Salvador, a country where the benefits of regional integration are quite clear. The previous month, we held our first ministerial meeting. Under the CAFTA agreement, we endorsed a positive, forward looking agenda that focused in particular on trade facilitation and on what we can do to help our small and medium enterprises, our SME’s, and how we can broaden the benefits of trade to rapidly growing middle classes in all of the CAFTA countries. I took the opportunity to visit a new Hanes factory. It was very impressive, and would never, ever, have been built without the certainty that CAFTA provided that company and its investors.  I also took the time to meet with business men and farmers, and talk about how they are benefitting from our new partnership and what more we can do as the United States and as the CAFTA partners to make sure that these benefits are spread more broadly. 

We’ve also spent significant time fostering the closest possible trade partnership between the U.S. and Mexico.  Last May we announced a new high level regulatory cooperation council that will help to streamline the regulatory processes on both sides of the border that can otherwise slow and hinder exports. And more recently President Obama and President Calderón announced a very important path forward to resolving the decades old cross-border trucking dispute. I’m very pleased to say that our concept will establish a reciprocal phased in process and program built on the highest safety standards.

Just last Friday, the Department of Transportation, under Secretary LaHood’s leadership, announced that it had posted the terms of the proposed agreement for public comment.  Mexico will suspend half of the retaliatory tariffs that it has placed on more than $2 billion dollars of U.S. goods, once the agreement is signed, and it will lift the remainder of these tariffs, once the first carrier is granted operator authority.  Mexico has also been a key partner in our ongoing efforts to strengthen global intellectual property rights. Last fall with Mexico and other partner countries representing more than half of global trade, we finalized the text of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement known as ACTA, during intense negotiations in Tokyo, and by that process created a very important new tool to fight counterfeiting and piracy. 

But we didn’t want to stop there. Has anyone heard about our recent progress on the Colombia FTA? Anyone? I just want to make sure you’d heard, because it’s very important news and it would be hard to be in this town, or really across the country, or across Colombia, and not have seen the headlines last Wednesday and Thursday.

Colombia is the third largest economy in South America, and one of our most important strategic partners in the region.  Last year our goods exports to Colombia were $12 million dollars, and the ITC, the International Trade Commission, estimates the passage of the FTA will expand these exports by more than a billion dollars, and increase U.S. GDP by more than two and half billion dollars.  I know that Nelson was worried I was gonna not mention Colombia when I was speaking, but I want to reassure you, I wouldn’t do that.
Earlier this year, as many of you know, President Obama directed us to intensify our engagement with Colombia with the objective of trying to resolve the outstanding issues relating to the trade agreement this year. The President made clear that Colombia had to address very serious labor issues, before he would be willing to move the agreement forward to Congress.  I’m pleased to say that we had a series of intense discussions over the course of several weeks, and for the most part out of the headlines, because we felt that was the most efficacious and effective way of trying to address what were definitely sensitive and complex issues. 
We succeeded at the end of the process of our discussions with Colombia in securing important, very important commitments on labor rights, on violence, and on impunity from prosecution, that address the concerns that the President had described.  The action plan related to labor rights that we produced was developed, as I said, really as a team effort, with the U.S. and Colombia working in close partnership, and then approved by President Obama and President Santos when they met on Thursday. 

This action plan significantly expands the protection of labor leaders and organizers, it bolsters efforts to punish those who perpetrate violence against such persons, and it strengthens labor laws and their enforcement.  It contains very specific detailed actions that Colombia will take to advance each of these three goals.  Some of these actions will be taken before we move the FTA forward, in fact as soon as April 22nd, while others will be taken before Congress votes on the agreement or before entry into force.  If you have not yet looked at the action plan and read it, I urge you to take the opportunity to do so.  You will see that under the plan, the Colombian government has committed to enact labor reforms to prevent and penalize the abuse of cooperatives as a way for companies to keep workers from becoming official employees and enjoying labor rights.  You will see that Colombia will hire 480 new labor inspectors which doubles the number they currently have.  Also, they will establish an anonymous complaint hotline and focus enforcement initiatives on the most vulnerable sectors.  Colombia will also amend the criminal code to criminalize anti-union threats and discrimination.  It will increase resources, it will expand training and it will improve procedures to secure more effective prosecution of labor violence cases.   It will also broaden access to protection programs for labor leaders and organizers under the threat of violence. At each step we will work closely with the government on implementation and to jointly access progress.  It’s important to note, as I mentioned earlier, that these initiatives have been proposed by the Santos Administration, which has been a very willing partner in developing the action plan.  President Santos and Vice President Garzón, himself a former labor leader, have already taken several important steps to address the labor problems that exist and to engage directly with the labor unions.

The action plan fits well with President Santos’ larger agenda and efforts to promote social justice in Colombia.  These efforts include unprecedented land restitution for internally displaced victims of violence, as well as draft legislation to provide billions of dollars in reparations to victims of violence, including victims of state sponsored violence.  President Santos has also introduced legislation to create separate labor, justice and environment ministries, and he has proposed dismantling the domestic security agency that has been implicated in human rights abuses. And the Administration continues to engage constructively with Colombia not only on labor issues, but also on broader human rights issues as part of a high level partnership dialogue. Moving forward on the U.S.-Colombia FTA is important now that our concerns are being addressed in a way that is both consistent with our values as Americans and that levels the playing field for American workers.  Reducing barriers for exports creates new opportunities for our businesses, for our workers, our farmers, our ranchers and others to have more and better paying jobs here at home. 

Let me say a few words about Panama, which I understand was the subject of Nelson’s first question this morning, so I’m gonna preempt him by saying a few words.  I’m expecting more good news ahead with respect to Panama.  We also intensified our efforts to work with that government to resolve the outstanding issues related to FTA.  Panama, as many of you know, is one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America or Central America, expanding by 3% in 2009, despite the global recession, and by over 6% in 2010. Panama is now in the process of completing work in the next step necessary for us to ready that agreement for Congressional consideration.  I’m pleased that Panama has already approved legislation to ensure that labor rights are respected in export processing zones and to eliminate restrictions on collective bargaining in companies less than two years old.  Panama has also passed important legislation to ensure that companies in the Barú Special Economic Zone will no longer be exempt from key labor rights provisions.  In addition, Panama has been striving to improve its tax transparency practices and signed a Tax Information Agreement, known as a TIA, with the United States last November that is in accordance with the internationally agreed standards as established by the OECD.  We expect the National Assembly will be ratifying this agreement shortly. 

Moving forward, I believe that both FTA’s will help us achieve the President’s goal of doubling U.S. exports by the end of 2014, by opening these markets to products that are made and grown in America.  These agreements will help U.S. exporters stay competitive as Colombia, Panama and Korea, let us not forget the third FTA, Korea, as these partners enter into trade agreements with the European Union, with Canada, and with other partners. We must stay competitive.

The exact timing of moving these three FTA’s ahead, is part of a broader discussion now with Congressional leadership on how to sequence our overall trade agenda this year.  This agenda includes a long term extension of the expanded trade adjustment assistance program known as TAA.  It also includes renewal of the Generalized System of Preferences Program, GSP, and the Andean Trade Preference Act, ATPA, as well as establishing permanent normal trade relations with Russia as it becomes a member of the WTO.  Korea is ready to move now as we have said, and the ball is in Panama’s court with respect to the steps that I mentioned and that government is making very good progress. The Colombia agreement could be ready in a matter of weeks, but we will not leave the other important pieces of our trade agenda behind.

Thank you again for inviting me here to speak and I look forward to any questions.