Opening Remarks by Ambassador Odeen Ishmael of Guyana, Chairman of the Latin American Council of SELA, at the Regional Seminar on Trade Relations between the United States and Latin America and the Caribbean in the first year of the Obama Administration
SELA Headquarters, Caracas, Venezuela, 22 March 2010

Posted March 23rd. 2010

Permanent Secretary of SELA, Ambassador Josť Rivera Banuet; Ambassador of the United States of America to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Ambassador Patrick Duddy; Ambassadors of SELA member states; Members of delegations, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.

First of all, I take this opportunity to express, on behalf of all delegations, our deepest sympathies to the Government and people of Chile for the disastrous loss of life, the severe injuries, and the heavy infrastructural damage caused by the recent earthquake and its aftermath. We do hope that the Chilean nation will be able to overcome this tragedy. The Government and people of Chile can surely count on the solidarity and good will of this region for moral as well as tangible support. I ask the members of the Chilean delegation to convey this expression of sympathy to their Government.

As we pay heed to the tragedies and travails of Chile, and also of Haiti, we meet over the next two days at this regional seminar to consider the trade relations between the US and Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) in the period of the new administration of President Barack Obama.

The fact that we see this topic as being of great importance registers the significance of trade relations between the US and LAC. This seminar aims to conduct an analysis on the main elements of the economic policy programme of the Obama administration and the probable implications for the Latin American and Caribbean nations. At the same time it hopes to identify the main trends of the trade relations between the US and LAC.

We are indeed honoured with the presence of Ambassador Duddy who will certainly contribute immensely with the exchange of information and ideas on the prospects of trade relations between the US and LAC. I am sure that the subsequent discussions will aid in assessing the potential responses agreed by LAC with respect to the regional economic agenda with the US.

I think that one of the main questions passing through our minds is this: Has there been any significant change, positive or negative, in US trade policies since the beginning of the Obama presidency?

We will also hear the views on this and other trade issues from sub-regional groups such as Central America, Caricom, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, Mercosur and the Andean countries, while representatives if Mexico and Chile will present their perspectives of free trade with the United States. We also look forward to hear the opinions of the Permanent Secretary of SELA and the executive secretariat of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean on this topic of vital concern to the entire region. And, surely, the opinions of the representatives of member states of SELA are essential to this exercise,

As we are all aware, the US is the most important trading partner of all the LAC states. While, overall, the balance of trade may not favour all the countries of the region, it is significant to note that the huge amounts of imports from the US generate millions of jobs for Americans and influence the growth and recovery of the American economy, which in turn should generate a positive influence on the economies of LAC.

No doubt, the LAC countries want greater and easier access to the American market for their primary and manufactured products.

Since I represent a member state of Caricom, allow me to speak briefly from the Caricom perspective on this issue.

Caricom countries, at the recent conference of Heads of States and Governments in Dominica, expressed strong support for the initiative in the US Senate to propose a bill for extension of the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act, primarily to facilitate continued exports of apparel by Haiti to the US market. The conference appreciated that the extension, if approved, would also apply to all eligible Caricom countries.

That forum also agreed that the US trade agenda should be kept under close review, taking into account Caricom's engagement with the Obama administration and Congress in the context of securing expansion of Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act to include services and the conclusion of a Caricom-US trade and investment framework agreement.

Some uncertainty in Caricom-US trade relations was removed on March 24, 2009 when the World Trade Organisation (WTO) approved the long standing waiver request from the US on the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act. The approval of the waiver, which will remain valid until 2014, provides the legal authorisation for Caricom to export certain goods to the US duty free.

The approval of the waiver is, therefore, a positive development in US-Caribbean trade relations. The achievement is linked notably to some level of compromise reached between the US and Paraguay, whose objections to the waiver related to concerns about unfair competition to its local producers because of the US unilateral preferential trade regimes with the Caribbean, and other countries.

While this waiver has been a positive advance, Caricom countries are also lobbying for the US to broaden the categories of Caricom products eligible for preferential access to its markets. The sub-region points to the fact that its services sector is growing very fast, contributing more than 60 percent of the economic output, and feels that this sector should be specially considered in any future Caricom-US trade relations.

At the same time, any new and enhanced trading relationship between Caricom and the US should take into account the differences in the level of development between the two parties and also among Caricom countries themselves.

Undoubtedly, the sub-region needs capacity-building assistance to allow regional industries to capitalise on export opportunities. The US can be supportive by providing training and technical assistance to address sanitary and phyto-sanitary requirements and other technical regulations and standards applied by the US.

Having said something from the Caricom perspective, I want to mention another matter which is of a much larger and significant scale. This is about the US-Brazilian trade dispute for which the LAC region wants President Obama to help find a quick resolution. Recently, there was a media report indicating that Brazil would impose tariffs on imported American cosmetics, appliances and cars worth nearly US$600 million to counter what the WTO ruled were unfair US cotton subsidies. In announcing the higher tariffs on US luxury goods, Brazil said it may also apply penalties of more than US$200 million in the intellectual property and services sectors.

We hope that the there can be a quick settlement to this current trade dispute which has stalled WTO talks for some time now, and we surely do not want to see any side pursuing a policy of trade retaliation.

We do look forward to hearing the viewpoints of participants on this trade dispute issue in the course of this regional seminar.

Thank you.

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