Media Center



November 14, 1995 - Ottawa

"We believe that the impressive accomplishments that have taken place in most our countries, since the Rio Conference, should in fact provide the foundation for achieving progress at the Bolivia Summit."

Let me begin by congratulating the Government of Canada, so ably represented in our organization by Ambassador Brian Dixon, for the support and excellent preparatory work leading up to this meeting. I also want to take this opportunity to express our appreciation to the successive Presidents and members of the Environment Committee of the Permanent Council of the OAS, for their guidance and support for this initiative and other important efforts being pursued by our Organization, in the field of the environment and sustainable development.

The process, leading up to this meeting, demonstrates the usefulness of the role of the OAS. As a forum, our organization enable the member States to identify key development issues of common concern, and to carry out an informed analysis in order to select new policies, exchange experiences, organize mutual support and carry out collective action. This is especially true in the area of development policy analysis and assessment of development mechanisms. The OAS is also well suited to launch collective programs and projects of interest to member states.

In their search for integration, peace and well-being for the peoples of the region, the member states can utilize the OAS to identify issues that either require or benefit from Collective action. The OAS can also facilitate the selection of the tools necessary for working together to build a better future for the hemisphere.

In today's world, many of the forces of everyday life are shaped by events taking place outside our national boundaries, such as respect for democratic values and human dignity; international trade and financial flows; environment protection and the achievement of sustainable development. And, these are just examples of what escapes the exclusive sphere of internal affairs.

Individual efforts are no longer enough to build a better tomorrow. Collective action is required. And, in our region, it is not only needed, but also timely. Our hemisphere has a historical opportunity to build a better common future. We are increasingly tied together by shared values and principles. As a result, we can pool resources in order to carry out development tasks that have been beyond our reach until now.

Our experience has proven that cooperation is also feasible. When properly implemented, the exchange of experiences, mutual support and collective action can pay good dividends in return for what member states invest in cooperation. There are many examples to prove this. By supporting each other, member States can accelerate their collective learning of development issues, such as policy design and implementation. And through cooperation, our countries can undertake tasks too difficult or costly for individual governments.

That is why the timing of this particular meeting is of crucial interest to all those of us gathered here in Ottawa. This meeting of experts will make recommendations and proposals for a possible OAS program of action in environmentally sound technologies for small and medium size enterprises.

In making your proposals, you will be addressing one of the highest priorities for inter-American cooperation, as defined by the heads of State in the Summit of the Americas, and by our member states in the framework of the efforts leading to the establishment of an Inter-American Council for Integral Development in the OAS, and the creation of its new Unit for the Promotion of Sustainable Development and the Environment.

Democracy, trade and social development can all benefit from the protection and improvement of our region's environment. And, I believe that the Organization should play a more active role in these matters. The OAS is cooperating with the Government of Bolivia in the preparations for the Summit on Sustainable Development that will take place in 1996. We are also helping to develop the guidelines of the road map for hemispheric action in sustainable development: Agenda 21. We believe that the impressive accomplishments that have taken place in most our countries, since the Rio Conference, should in fact provide the foundation for achieving progress at the Bolivia Summit.

The member states of the OAS have already undertaken important collective efforts to manage their environments and promote sustainable development in the hemisphere. This has included the establishment of an Inter-American Program of Action for Environmental Protection. In addition to this meeting, this program aims to reconcile development, conservation, and the rational, sustained use of environmental resources, including a policy on the transfer of non-polluting technologies. It seeks to foster cooperation and communication among the OAS member states on environmental problems, in order to promote both the use of technologies that favor environmental protection, as well as the acquisition of knowledge about regional environmental matters. It also aims to strengthen the participation of all our member States, big and small, in international efforts to improve environment quality and promote sustainable development.

Many of the objectives incorporated in Inter-American Program of Action for Environmental Protection stem from the lessons we have learned as a result of multinational efforts we have carried successfully. We have gained important knowledge from our experiences in environmental management in the context of projects for regional development. We have learned a lot from research on clean technologies and specific eco-systems of scientific and technological development.

Yet, the program of Action was conceived prior to the Rio Conference. So, we are now taking steps to refocus this important Inter-American program in accordance with Agenda 21.

This meeting is also significant for another reason. You will be discussing the needs of small and medium sized enterprises. You will also be reviewing public and private responsibilities and initiatives to address one of the most important needs of the productive sector in the Americas. Small and medium sized industries are an important source of employment and a crucial tool for wealth and income distribution. As such, It is a fundamental building block for overall production capacity to compete.

Yet, many of the small and medium sized producers will not be able to succeed within the new market conditions created by free trade and economic integration, two fundamental goals for the Americas. Even worse, thousands of these enterprises will not be able to survive in the local and international markets, if they maintain low levels of productivity, poor quality standards and technologies and practices that are hazardous to health and the environment.

More and more, international markets are imposing strict environmental requirements. And, even though these are often new artificial barriers to free trade -- a fact that we must not accept -- we are nevertheless compelled to restructure various industrial sectors because our citizens have a right to a healthier environment. They have also made clear that governments must protect strategic ecosystems and natural resources for future generations to enjoy.

To reconcile the many competing interests, one of our main challenges will be to promote eco-efficiency programs in Latin America and the Caribbean, based on the technological and entrepreneurial achievements of North-America. Eco-efficiency is a promising industrial strategy to increase productivity, to improve quality standards, to introduce cleaner technologies and to use energy and natural resources in the most efficient way possible. As you know, very often low productivity technologies produce high levels of contamination and occupational health problems.

Eco-efficiency programs are beginning to demonstrate that it is possible to solve simultaneously these problems through a comprehensive approach. Furthermore, these programs have shown that improving our environment can not only be a sound business for the entrepreneurs, but also a useful generator of savings and employment.

Promoting eco-efficiency is not a trivial matter. To try to do it through traditional command and control mechanisms could lead us to a great failure. Today, many of our small and medium-sized industrialists do not comply with law because of the lack of information about technology, scarce managerial and technical capabilities, and because of the lack of financial resources. That is why we must find new methods of environmental management other than coercion.

A eco-efficiency program must give priority to the creation of innovative mechanisms that encourage the transfer environmentally sound technologies to small and medium sized firms. Any such program must build up national capacities for producing them locally. These are two key topics that will be addressed by this meeting.

Furthermore, we must also create the economic incentives necessary to encourage their adoption by our producers. We must offer them access to credit, an option currently unavailable to most small size firms due to market failures. These, too, are basic conditions for promoting eco-efficiency which has shown promise in private sector initiatives on the continent.

The private sector is leading the process of internationalization of the Americas, including the building of new inter-American bridges for cooperation, trade and integration. The search for the capacity to compete in rapidly opening markets and a global competition based on regional market blocks, has established the need for strategic alliances among firms, as well as between these and technical institutions from all of the Americas.

Inter-American joint ventures are becoming increasingly attractive to many firms, institutions and governments that want to share the benefits of a hemisphere united by a common support of democratic ideals, free trade, free enterprise and environmentally responsible growth that place people first.

To this end, the private sector is devising new strategies of mutual benefits. For example, firms participating in a recent meeting sponsored by the OAS, reviewed alternative approaches through which large corporations are co-sponsoring the services of universities and research centers to enhance the compliance of environmental requirements by their local small and medium size suppliers. Some of these firms also took the opportunity to creating a basis for joint projects that bring together petroleum enterprises and research centers from the Americas in the development of clean and competitive technologies. This is happening in Mexico, as we speak.

The Organization of American States has a new and revitalized role in facilitating inter-American efforts in science and technology. The Summit of the Americas and the General Assembly of the OAS want to promote new initiatives such as the Program MERCOCYT, a recently launched program that embodies many of the new visions of technical cooperation shared by the OAS member states. In this program, as in other recent initiatives in science and technology, there is a particular concern for supporting clean competitive technological change in small and medium size enterprises.

These new initiatives are building on the member states' efforts to stimulate the transfer and local production of environmentally sound technologies. This includes work intended to increase total quality in small and medium size firms, improve the control of manufacturing processes to reduce contamination, and to perfect recycling techniques.

Finally, I would like to stress one final reason why this meeting is important. It must propose recommendations regarding the mechanisms necessary to make the program work.

We are specially interested in hearing new ideas, for this is a fundamental issue in inter-American cooperation. We all agree that cooperation is necessary and potentially profitable for all parties involved. However, the question is not whether collective action is required, but rather what instruments and modalities are going to be used to undertake this multilateral effort.

We are rethinking the role of the OAS in environmental and sustainable development because we want to take full advantage of our organization's comparative advantages. Our analysis suggests that the OAS should increasingly focus on becoming a political forum on sustainable development, formulating policy recommendations for its members states, and promoting collective programs and projects, in addition to its current role as an entity which lends technical cooperation.

We believe the Organization should stimulate modalities such as horizontal cooperation, exchange of experiences, and joint efforts with other organizations and institutions.

There are literally thousands of small and medium size firms throughout the hemisphere At the same time, there are thousands of technologies that could contribute to clean competitive production, recycling and cleaning (after production) in small and medium size firms. The question is how can the Organization best identify and develop and propose the most suitable policies according to needs and circumstances of each member state. And, what mechanisms can be use to best facilitate the cooperation among those trying to create the contextual conditions, the institutional resources, the entrepreneurial spirit, and the knowledge required to incorporate environmentally sound technologies into small production.

I believe that there is a world of opportunity and the means for fruitful cooperation. They range from better information to multinational demonstrations in existing industrial plants; from the organization of technical networks to mutual support for the design of technical institutions managed by small and medium size firms; and, from suppliers programs to support for technological entrepreneurship.

In closing I would like to share with you my conviction that in looking for ways by which inter-American cooperation can best contribute to the growth and sustainable development of small firms, we can look into the future with the calm gaze of a continent increasingly aware of our collective vision and strengths.

We all want to leave a better world to our children, one in which we have grown by adding to the environmental wealth they will need to live productive, healthy and happy lives. To do so, we place our hopes in the hands of those, like you, who will build a better future on the solid foundations of technical knowledge, entrepreneurial spirit and social conscience.