The United States and Bolivia are entering a new chapter in our bilateral relationship. I just returned from Bolivia, where I led the U.S. delegation to the first meeting of the U.S.-Bolivia High Level Joint Commission, a product of the Framework Agreement we signed last November. The Framework Agreement was designed to help us move beyond the significant difficulties in the relationship experienced over the last three years. Based on the Joint Commission meeting, we have made substantial progress. During the Joint Commission, we tackled a range of issues -- from development to trade to counternarcotics -- in the spirit of shared interests and mutual respect. We discussed issues, even issues on which we do not agree, in a direct and frank manner, bearing in mind our commitment to using diplomacy to achieve solutions and protect our interests. We signed a joint agreement on health, and we we reaffirmed our commitment to name ambassadors to our respective capitals -- which we hope to do this year -- in recognition of our commitment to restore relations at that level.
Separately, on a visit to Carmen Pampa University in Bolivia's diverse Yungas region, I saw USAID's Alternative Development program, which is aimed at providing Bolivians with the knowledge and resources to grow valuable agricultural products rather than coca. I met with local producers who discussed the challenges of working in the area, as well as the advances they accomplished to develop their businesses and market their products in Bolivia and throughout the world. One organic coffee farmer had just signed an exclusive contract with a major U.S. gourmet supermarket chain. An exposition of the producers' wares highlighted the variety of production -- with bananas, coffee, honey, and cacao among the products on display. There was a working example of efficient cookstoves being used in Bolivia to reduce fuel requirements.
Our host for the day, Carmen Pampa University, is home to approximately 700 students from rural areas who are studying agronomy, nursing, veterinary medicine and tourism -- topics which the vast majority of students use to return home and improve lives in their communities. Fifty students attend the university on USAID scholarships. During lunch, students talked about the importance of the university in their lives and futures.
In the months ahead, the Embassy La Paz will collaborate closely with counterparts in the Bolivian government to advance the Joint Commission process as an ongoing objective, deepening our review of bilateral cooperation and improving the effectiveness of our programs on the ground. Bolivia and the United States are once again working together productively on a shared agenda.
Kevin Whitaker serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.