Good evening and welcome to the House of the Americas. It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you and all of those involved in the “Trade and Environment” Seminar and in the “OAS-WTO Course on Multilateral and Regional Trade for the Americas.” I would like to recognize the work of our Executive Secretary for Integral Development, Ambassador Mauricio Cortes Costa, whose Secretariat is overseeing these two important capacity building activities. I would also like to thank Claudia de Windt and Maryse Robert from the Departments of Sustainable Development and of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism for organizing these two flagship events.
We are meeting at a time when Latin America and the Caribbean countries have made great strides in improving their economies. The region’s better macroeconomic management, accompanied by greater regional coordination and a set of progressive social policies, helped mitigate the negative impacts of the crisis.
As a result, the years prior to the global financial crisis were marked by sustained economic growth in our region. The opening up of our economies allowed us to benefit, more than before, from the growth in demand in other parts of the world.
Let me highlight that for the first time in its history, Latin America and the Caribbean achieved during the past decade a combination of high growth, macroeconomic stability, poverty reduction and improvement in income distribution.
But endemic poverty and inequality continue to be unacceptably high in our hemisphere. The poverty rate in the region stood 32.1 percent in 2010, with approximately 183 million poor and 74 million living in indigence. We need to do more and do better to lift the people from our hemisphere out of poverty.
Against this background, both trade and investment are powerful tools.
It is widely recognized that free trade creates opportunities and, at the same time, challenges for environmental management. In order to address these challenges new generation of Free Trade Agreements have included environmental provisions.
The trade liberalization trends of the last decade offer many opportunities for OAS Member States to strengthen their competitiveness in their respective target markets. However, the challenge has been to ensure that increased trade does not lead to increased pressure on natural resources and on the social system.
The OAS mandates to work on the sustainability of economic growth go back to the First Summit of the Americas in Miami in 1994, where it was emphasized the influence that economic growth could have in the quality of life and environmental protection.
To follow up on these mandates, the OAS has been working with countries of the region in strengthening institutional capacity as well as the mechanisms that promote good governance to support integrated policies that consider sustainable development.
For several years now, our Department of Sustainable Development has been building capacity in the area of trade and environment, particularly training future leaders of developing countries to acquire the tools required to achieve a comprehensive overview of the issues of trade and environment in the context of the sustainable development agenda.
This is exactly what this Trade and Environment Summer Seminar is trying to achieve as part of our capacity building efforts, since the institutions and their officers and personnel are key elements for the development of the region.
We, at the OAS, are also fully aware of the need to develop human resources and the capacity of institutions responsible for the design and implementation of trade policy. In that context, I want to highlight our partnership with the WTO over the past 14 years.
We are also cognizant that the best trade rules will not overcome the structural inequalities within countries that prevent the poor from capturing a fair share of the prosperity generated by trade. This is why our Department of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism has expanded its trade capacity building program, going beyond providing support to the negotiation and implementation of trade agreements. We offer a program aimed at strengthening the capacity of institutions that provide services to SMEs, with a special emphasis on women entrepreneurs to increase their productivity and competitiveness and the participation of these micro and small enterprises in the benefits offered by expanded markets.
It is our commitment to continue working on these important issues for the region and we hope to continue collaborating with key partners such as American University, Washington College of Law, especially David Hunter, the Director of International Legal Studies Program, and Erika Lennon. They have been key in this journey towards development. Many thanks also to our partners at the World Trade Organization, in particular Mr. Hector Torres, and to George Washington University Law School for their support over these many years.
Welcome again to all of you.