Secretary Kerry entrusted me with the mission of promoting a vision of economic diplomacy: a Shared Prosperity Agenda. The premise of the agenda is that security, stability, and prosperity are inexorably intertwined. You can’t have prosperity without stability and security, and there is no sustainable stability without prosperity. A cooperative and constructive regional arrangement like the Pacific Alliance is an effective way to advance peace and stability – and prosperity for all.
It is with this mission in mind that I am in the historic port of Cartagena, Colombia through March 8th for a conference sponsored by the prestigious Institute for International Strategic Studies (IISS) regarding the Pacific Alliance trade bloc, and the potential for further economic integration between Latin America and the Asia-Pacific.
Formed in 2011, the Pacific Alliance is composed of four of our southern neighbors: Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Chile. The four countries possess a combined population of over 214 million, 38 percent of Latin America’s GDP, 50 percent of the region’s exports, and 36 percent of foreign direct investment. They also possess a geographic position along the Pacific Rim and as global economic activity has shifted toward Asia, the advantages of their location have become obvious.
The four alliance countries are currently consolidating an ambitious agenda, including signing a plurilateral free trade agreement, eliminating visa requirements, instituting educational exchange and scholarship programs, and integrating capital markets. The existence of a group of countries in Latin America dedicated to free trade and a liberal approach to markets is interesting and will help the debate in the region as a whole.
The United States is one of thirty-four countries with “observer” status to the Pacific Alliance. The Alliance has expressed interest in cooperation with observers and the United States responded has proposed cooperation in trade facilitation, travel facilitation, small business, entrepreneurship and exchanges between research institutions.
Last month I visited Fort Worth, Texas, to make closing remarks at the US government’s first official engagement with the Pacific Alliance. Under the U.S. government-sponsored La Idea program, entrepreneurs from all four countries participated in two weeks of engagement with U.S. investors at three business incubators, one of which was in Fort Worth. I enjoyed mixing with the attendees, several of whom told me that they were already making deals with U.S. companies they had met through the program. They also told me that in Fort Worth they had made excellent contacts among the other Pacific Alliance participants from other countries where they had not known anyone before. In small ways like this we not only build contacts for our own business people, but we encourage constructive ventures like the Pacific Alliance to increase cooperation.
This weekend’s Cartagena Conference includes keynote remarks from Colombian President Santos and minister-level representation from all four Pacific Alliance countries. The event includes a mix of government officials from the Pacific Alliance and some of its thirty-four observer countries business representatives, and non-governmental trade and investment analysts.
I hope that the La Idea incubator program and my participation in the IISS Cartagena Dialogue are just the first of many efforts by the United States to generate active practical cooperation between the United States and this dynamic regional bloc. Congratulations to the Pacific Alliance on their progress and best wishes as they work to further integrate trade and positive engagement between Asia and the Americas.
About the author: David Thorne serves as Senior Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of State.
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