AmChams Focus on TradeBy AmCham Staff
On October 15-17, the American Association of Chambers of Commerce in Latin America (AACCLA), which groups the 23 AmChams in the region, held its Annual Meeting in Washington DC. AmCham Chile’s delegation was led by the Chamber’s president, Javier Irarrázaval, who was accompanied by Jaime Bazán, AmCham’s general manager, and Paulina Dellafiori, events and marketing manager. The program consisted of two days of seminars and meetings with the participation of prominent speakers from Washington’s political scene.
Javier Irarrázaval was elected as a vice-president of AACCLA for a two-year term, which ensures that AmCham Chile remains well represented on the association’s board. During his visit to Washington, AmCham’s president also held meetings with authorities from the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), the US Department of Energy, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the Chilean Ambassador to Washington, Arturo Fermandois.
In parallel to the AACCLA meeting, participants took part in the Forecast on Latin America and the Caribbean conference. José Miguel Insulza, the Chilean Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), gave the keynote address, noting that Latin America and the Caribbean still have a big challenge ahead to fight poverty, inequality and to consolidate the rule of law.
He stressed that one of the OAS’ mandates is to consolidate democracy in member countries, which implies strengthening institutions, improving the transparency of public administration and combatting corruption. Free Trade Agreements, which are important tools in generating wealth and development, have been effective mechanisms in producing better jobs, promoting best practices and raising real wages, said Insulza.
The participants agreed that the recent approval by the US Congress of the Colombia and Panama Free Trade Agreements, after several years of intense lobbying, is a very powerful signal of the importance the region has for the United States. However, Colombia and Panama must first adapt their legislation to the norms established in their respective agreements before they can take effect.
Free trade was the theme of an interesting panel that included the former Assistant Secretary of State for Affairs of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Mac Mclarty, the former US Ambassador to Chile, Craig Kelly, and Moisés Naim, a well-known intellectual and analyst on Latin American issues.
The panellists agreed on how successful FTAs in Latin America have been, although they expressed the need to act with caution since the growth which has benefitted the region must be shown to be sustainable, especially in the case of Brazil which is becoming a key global player.
In addition, there was a broad consensus on the need to improve the quality of education in the region and strengthen democratic institutions. Moisés Naím warned that Chile’s good international reputation and strong economic growth seem to be at odds with what is happening in Santiago’s streets. He noted that part of the explanation lies in the fact that the recent expansion of the middle class in Chile, as in other countries, has led to higher expectations for greater participation in the country’s economic growth.
The panel also warned about corruption in the region, which is often connected to funding for electoral campaigns. Given Colombia’s success in fighting organized crime, the big cartels have moved to Mexico or Central America. To face them, the United States should develop policies aimed to foster the rule of law and consolidate democratic institutions in these countries, with a strong participation of the private sector in CSR programs, said Ambassador William Brownfield.
Finally the president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, said the coming decade should be positive for the region. Since 2001, average GDP in Latin America has increased around 25%, due mainly to improved macro and financial policies, the growth of China, and the strengthening of financial markets.
The big question is whether countries of the region are prepared for the economic storm that may be coming, said Zoellick, adding that the World Bank is closely monitoring the impact of the global crisis on investor confidence in the region.
The overriding theme at the AACCLA meeting was that the benefits of increased trade and development in Latin America must be shared by all citizens to ensure more inclusive growth. This requires a stronger middle class and increased competitiveness, but only in this way can democracy be consolidated in the region, concluded Zoellick.