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OAS Secretary General, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and President of Haiti Inaugurated the VIII Americas Competitiveness Forum

  October 9, 2014

The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza; the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Kamla Persad-Bissessar; and the President of Haiti, Michel Martelly inaugurated last night the VIII Americas Competitiveness Forum (ACF) with a call to promote competitiveness and innovation as key elements for addressing the region’s main challenges.

In his opening remarks, Secretary General Insulza asserted that competitiveness and innovation are critical to tackling key challenges in the region, which are "to reduce the social divide, that of knowledge and technology, as well as skills gaps; to accelerate the introduction of new economic and social policies that favor change and support young entrepreneurs; and to strengthen our institutions and improve the quality and `pertinence of our education.”

The OAS leader urged member states not to underestimate the importance of regional cooperation in innovation and competitiveness and, after encouraging them to observe what happens in other regions of the world where progress and setbacks occur, he noted, “I would like to emphasize that if we work together as a region we can achieve a lot more in less time, for the benefit of all."

The OAS Secretary General commended Trinidad and Tobago for selecting “The Human Imagination at Work" as the central theme of the VIII ACF, considering that this initiative sends "a very important message." He further said that the rhetoric of competitiveness often tends to focus on purely economic issues, which, while important, must not ignore the needs of people and their quality of life.

While underscoring the progress made as a region over the last decade in the areas of democracy, security, economic growth, human rights and the social sector, Insulza warned that when it comes to competitiveness and innovation, the Hemisphere still has much to do. “Neither governments nor the private sector invest enough in innovation," he said. "Latin America and the Caribbean continue to have average investment in research and development of around 0.66% as a percentage of GDP. In contrast, OECD countries invest on average 2.47% of their GDP."

In this context, Secretary General Insulza urged governments and the private sector to commit to the future of the workforce through improving skills and adapting to the demands of this new reality. He also expressed the need for more technologies in the workplace. "Currently, 51% of Latin American and Caribbean businesses still rank between a medium to low technological intensity, despite the fact that technologies are known to increase productivity while lowering costs,” he added.

Secretary General Insulza noted that this is the last ACF in which he will participate as head of the OAS, and he highlighted some of the tangible results obtained during the past eight forums that took place during his tenure. Among others, he mentioned the 2020 vision that crafted the 10 principles of Competitiveness in the "Consensus of Santo Domingo," adopted by the RIAC during the V ACF held in the Dominican Republic in 2011. “These principles are still the standards of our Organization," he said.

In her remarks, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar asserted that innovation and creativity are key to empowering the region's economy, noting that her country has innovated in areas such as public health, medicine, technology, and the oil industry.

The Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago said that although her country is small and only has a population of 1.2 million people, it has a great capacity for innovation. As an example, she noted that Trinidad and Tobago invented the steel drums, a musical instrument made from oil barrels. She further said that it is the only percussion instrument invented in the 20th Century, emphasizing that it is exported around the world and that it was invented in part thanks to her country’s 100-year experience in the oil industry.

The Prime Minister thanked OAS Secretary General Insulza and Assistant Secretary General Albert Ramdin for strengthening the ties of the Caribbean region to the rest of the Hemisphere and for having marked a turning point in the relationship between Caribbean and Latin American countries.

Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar was the last of the six speakers to take the floor at the opening ceremony of the VIII ACF, which took place at the National Academy for the Perfoming Arts in San Fernando, a town located in the outskirts of Port of Spain. The Prime Minister ended her intervention by introducing a musical group featuring steel drums.

For his part, the President of Haiti, Michel Martelly, indicated that it is important for his country to rebuild the infrastructure that was damaged in the 2010 earthquake, and he mentioned the import of raw materials as a key element to driving development. The Haitian President noted that he is planning on his country to become a leading exporter of organic foods in the Caribbean. He also announced that by the end of 2015, Haiti will start exporting organic bananas.

President Martelly asserted that he wants to turn Haiti’s challenges into opportunities and change the image of his country. In this regard, he stated that he was elected to develop the economy based on innovation. He mentioned that Haiti faces challenges due to the characteristics of its geography and the natural disasters it suffers, but he emphasized that the most important objective is to meet the basic needs of the population, such as providing food, transportation, and shelter.

President Martelly said that despite the challenges, the country has advantages, among which he mentioned that it does not lack in imagination and its population is made up of many young people. The Haitian President added that linking technological development to innovation will contribute to his country’s development.

Sustainable Development

For his part, the President pro-Tempore of the RIAC 2014 and Minister of Planning and Sustainable Development of Trinidad and Tobago, Bhoendradatt Tewarie, explained the origin of the Forum’s central theme, "The Human Imagination at Work: Driving Competitiveness, Powering Innovation." "First, it was conceived because of our perspective that the human being must be at the centre of development, for development to be meaningful."

He indicated, furthermore, that the theme was conceived in the context in which, “from our perspective in Trinidad and Tobago, that for development to be meaningful it must not only put people at the centre, it must also be sustainable,”. He then sent a message to the region, “We wish to recommend this thinking, simple but deep, to all countries in the Hemisphere.”

The United States Deputy Secretary of Commerce, Bruce Andrews, said that when the ACF began in 2007, the goal was to improve the quality of life of the citizens, the countries, and of the Hemisphere. He added that seven years later, that goal has not changed. Deputy Secretary Andrews recalled the 2008 crisis that hit his country particularly hard, noting that the administration of President Barack Obama has been able to steer the economy into recovery and has enabled the private sector to create 10 million jobs over 55 consecutive months.

Deputy Secretary Andrews said that now is an important time for the region to accelerate its success. He further noted that the theme of the current ACF is in line with the spirit of the United States Department of Commerce, because to some extent, it is the "Department of Innovation" as it invests in digital infrastructure, protects ideas through patents and branding, and creates technology standards for national laboratories.

For his part, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, Carlos Raúl Morales, said Trinidad and Tobago made ​​an excellent choice when selecting the central theme of the human imagination driving competitiveness and powering innovation, as a steady source of development and growth. “As government leaders, we must face the challenges that today competitiveness implies: We must be able to adapt and respond to the challenges of economic globalization.” He further noted that the academic and productive sectors should search for domestic comparative advantages and have the openness needed to understand that regional and subregional integration is key to the role that our Hemisphere plays during this century as a global player and producer of consumer goods, and for the foods and natural wealth we possess that other parts of the world desire.”

Referring to the next ACF that his country will host in 2015 and its plans for when it assumes the pro-Tempore Presidency of the RIAC, Minister Morales reported that among the issues to be discussed is, “How to make this development sustainable and inclusive, how to adequately take advantage of the cultural wealth of our peoples; and how to be more attractive to larger flows of foreign investment."

The OAS Assistant Secretary General, Albert Ramdin, Minister Tewarie, and a representative of the Government of Guatemala will close the ACF on Friday afternoon.

The Americas Competitiveness Forums are held once a year and their main objective is to foster business development and to allow the exchange of ideas and knowledge so that the countries of the Americas may become more innovative, productive, and competitive and, thus, may improve the living standards of their citizens.

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-429/14