Hemisphere Leaders Commit to Free Trade

Fervent support for free trade was the recurring message at the mid-year meeting of the Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America (AACCLA) held in Mexico City on May 14-16.

The meeting brought together all 23 AmChams in Latin America. AmCham Chile was represented by its president, Javier Irarrázaval, and executive director, Rodrigo Ballivián. Kathleen Barclay, a member of AmCham’s advisory council, was also in attendance.

Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón, who gave the keynote speech at the conference, spoke eloquently of the advantages of free trade for the people of Mexico and the region. He vigorously defended free trade and open markets as critical to building global competitiveness. In addition, he emphasized the importance of investment in infrastructure and education as complements to free trade policies and strongly rejected protectionism.

President Calderón also spoke of the importance of regional integration, indicating strong support for the Pacific Alliance (Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Peru), as well as for the Trans- Pacific Partnership. Both alliances demonstrate strategic support for strategies that enhance increased competitiveness of the Latin American Region vis-à-vis Asia.

Another highlight of the conference was the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the US Department of Commerce and several AmChams including AmCham Chile. The agreement provides for the exchange of information regarding business opportunities for small and medium-sized companies in the United States that arise within the region and which will be channeled through the AmChams working in partnership with US embassies across the region.

Francisco Sánchez, Under Secretary for International Trade at the United States Department of Commerce, signed the agreement and delivered the luncheon address outlining the United States’ trade agenda. Under Secretary Sánchez stressed the importance of the agreement, indicating that it is directly related to President’s Obama’s jobs creation priorities.

The AmChams were pleased to hear of the United States’ ongoing commitment to free trade and celebrated the implementation of the US-Colombian Free Trade Agreement that came into effect on May 15.

The US State Department was well represented. The US Ambassador to Chile, Alejandro Wolff, was joined by his colleagues from Mexico, Jamaica, Peru, and Costa Rica, as well as Deputy Secretary of State, Thomas Nides. The Ambassadors held a panel discussion on how to most effectively work with the US business community across the region. An open and constructive dialogue followed with delegates from the AmChams. The conversation was a follow-up to the February meeting hosted by Hilary Clinton between the US State Department and AmChams from around the world where AmCham Chile was represented by Javier Irarrázaval.

AACCLA and the AmChams also took the opportunity to confer their highest honor – the Eagle of the Americas award – on former Peruvian President Alan García for his work in support of hemispheric free trade as embodied in the US- Peru FTA that came into effect in February, 2009. Former President García spoke passionately about the contribution of free trade to successful development in the hemisphere.

Overall, the meeting was highly successful in bringing together AmCham leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean to network and reinforce their commitment to the promotion of free trade and investment in the Western Hemisphere.

Kathleen C. Barclay is past chair of AACCLA, principal of the consulting firm Asesorias KCB Ltda., and chair of bUSiness CHILE’s Editorial Board.