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Remarks at Pathways to Prosperity Plenary Session I

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Panama City, Panama
December 10, 2008

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much, and I am really delighted to join my foreign minister colleagues and the trade ministers here for our Pathway ministerial. It’s our first opportunity to get together after the heads of state meeting. This groundbreaking forum is bringing together partners who share a fundamental commitment to expanding opportunities for their people. And that commitment is grounded in democratic values, and it is also grounded in a belief that open markets and free trade leads to growth, and that that can indeed be used to promote social mobility.

I want to thank especially President Torrijos for his opening remarks and for hosting us here, and to you, Sam, our good friend, for all of the wonderful work that you’ve done to make this ministerial possible, and to all of your colleagues for their efforts.

The Pathways to Prosperity in the Americas Initiative aims to build on the remarkable democratic consolidation of our hemisphere over the last two decades. The nations of the region, amidst different traditions that we embody, are still consolidating the powerful convergence of ideals and interests. We agree on first principles, that the path to greater opportunity and social justice is different for every country. But its features are similar: democracy in the rule of law, responsible governance and open economies, and investment in the health and education of our people.

Our governments know that when you invest in people, they can fuel your societies’ economic and social transformation. Thus, democracy, development, and social justice are partners in delivering for humankind. Our governments also know that the truly great challenges of our day can best be met by marshaling our complementary strengths and abilities in the service of our shared goals. Our leaders recognized in their joint communiqué in New York on September 24th that to fully realize the benefits of trade liberalization and open markets, we must promote, integrate, and advance all aspects of our hemispheric, economic and development agenda.

Our discussions today will focus on five key paths to achieving these goals: increasing the capacity for small businesses and farmers to take advantage of trade; deepening regional trade; expanding regional cooperation on economic development and competitiveness; better coordinating labor and environmental standards and enforcement; and engaging the private sector and civil society in our efforts.

For the United States, the Pathways Initiative also builds on our bipartisan commitment to supporting democratic partners in tackling the challenges of poverty, inequality, and social exclusion. Our hemisphere’s potential is enormous and our success is linked intimately to the success of our neighbors. In recent years, most democratic governments in our hemisphere – left, right and center – have been doing the right things to help more people prosper. They have been opening markets and expanding opportunities, boosting trade and attracting investment, fighting corruption and enforcing the rule of law. We respect the results that they are achieving and we are supporting them.

Under President Bush, with the support of Congress, the United States has doubled development assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean. We are working to unlock the vast potential of our region’s citizens by investing in improved healthcare and education, in access to capital, in economic infrastructure and security. Here in Panama, for instance, we have established the first regional healthcare training center where medical professionals from six countries are receiving training that they can carry home to their fellow citizens.

The United States has also worked to forgive billions of dollars in debt that too long hampered the potential of some of the poorest nations in the region. And through the Millennium Challenge Account initiative, we are allocating assistance where it will have the greatest impact: in countries that demonstrate a commitment to political and economic freedom, in healthcare and education for their people, in the sustainable use of natural resources, the control of corruption, and respect for civil liberties and the rule of law.

Through the Millennium Challenge, we have begun to fulfill nearly $1 billion in commitments to our compact partners like El Salvador and Peru and Paraguay that are governing justly, promoting economic freedom, and investing in their people. Our challenge in this period of financial turmoil, in this period of uncertainty, in this period, frankly, of great concern, we must sustain our commitment to the principles and practices that are proven to reduce poverty and expand social justice. Market economies and global trade and finance regimes, like any system designed by men and women, are not perfect. But they are engines of opportunity and social justice.

So I am gratified by the participation of so many important parties in this Pathways Initiative. By coming together to renew and build on our commitment to trade and investment liberalization, we send a powerful signal that we are not going to repeat the mistakes of the Great Depression when nations deepened that crisis by turning inward and adopting protectionist policies. Free trade and open markets remain the surest path to growth, and it is the path that our region will follow to prosperity.

There are other important ways for nations to demonstrate their commitment to open markets. One is to fulfill the G-20 commitments to refrain from imposing new trade or investment barriers for the next 12 months. The United States Congress also has an immediate opportunity by passing our free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama, and – as well as the South Korean Free Trade Agreement. And this Administration will continue urging it to do so.

Passage of FTAs would cap a decade and a half of dramatic expansion of free trade and economic integration in our hemisphere. More importantly, it would create an unbroken chain of free trading nations stretching from Canada to Chile, spreading prosperity and enhancing competitiveness of each country in today’s globalized economy.

So with a clear sense of the importance of this initiative, I look forward to learning about the priorities of our partners, to exchanging thoughts and proposals of how we can ensure that this shared vision of greater opportunity and social justice for all of our citizens is indeed realized. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

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Released on December 10, 2008

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