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The first day of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s CEO Summit of the Americas has concluded following a whirlwind of programming featuring government and business leaders from across the region. Discussions focused on how the public and private sectors can cooperate to improve the rule of law, enhance trade, expand economic opportunity, help small and medium-sized businesses across the region, strengthen health systems, and foster digital transformation.
Watch the CEO Summit of the Americas
Highlights from the IV CEO Summit are streaming now on Chamber On Demand.
If you could not tune in to the first day’s events, we have recapped the main takeaways below:
Expanding economic opportunity, innovation, and inclusion
Expanding economic innovation and inclusion in the Americas is a key priority for the United States and Latin America. This week, the Biden administration announced a flurry of economic agreements with the region, most notably, the Americans Partnership for Economic Prosperity.
Business leaders, too, are utilizing the power of the private sector to expand economic opportunity, innovation, and inclusion. Importantly, modern technologies are expanding market access for small and medium-sized enterprises – which comprise most businesses in Latin America.
Expanding cost-effective access to digital infrastructure and tools is imperative to expanding economic growth. Sarah Jane Gunter, Vice President of Latin America Consumer Business for Amazon, noted, “We know that in order to truly maximize the impact of e-commerce in the Americas, small and medium-sized businesses need support from governments to manage the most cost-prohibitive components of operating an e-commerce business.”
Nick Clegg, President of Global Affairs at Meta, explained how new digital technologies such as the growing metaverse will expand economic opportunity in the Americas. The metaverse, Clegg explained, will not only create new digital markets and marketplaces but also expand access to high-quality immersive educational instruction. The result of this digital transformation will be profound, Clegg noted, “Over the next 10 years, the Metaverse could bring a 5% improvement to Latin American GDP.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed that the importance of private-sector engagement cannot be overstated: “The private sector is a critical partner on virtually everything that we’re doing. One of the greatest strengths we bring to the table is our ability to work together with the private sector in ways that other countries don’t or can’t. So, we want to see that mobilized to the greatest extent possible.”
Energizing trade and investment
The efforts of the private sector to expand economic opportunity, innovation, and inclusion are mirrored by a simultaneous need for governments to reduce barriers to growth. That means expanding opportunities for trade in goods and services across the Western hemisphere. According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), U.S. goods and services trade with the Western Hemisphere accounted for $1.9 trillion in 2019. Still, tariff and non-tariff trade barriers alike constrict growth in the region.
Vice President Kamala Harris thanked the U.S. Chamber, the Partnership for Central America, and over 40 companies and organizations for their investment commitments to the region, saying “We have now generated more than $3.2 billion. This investment is on track to generate tens of thousands of jobs. It will help more than 10 million people access banking services and credit. And 2 million people already have been connected to the internet, with millions more to follow.”
President Guillermo Lasso of Ecuador expressed his administration’s trade policy succinctly stating, “Our policy is quite clear: More Ecuador in the world and more of the world in Ecuador. We are seeking more trade of Ecuador in the world and more investment from the world in Ecuador.”
In his opening remarks, U.S. Chamber Executive Vice President Myron Brilliant issued a challenge to the leaders gathered at the Summit of the Americas to expand trade to new economic sectors. “Why not pursue a digital trade agreement that would allow data to move across borders, prohibit forced localization of data, and bar customs duties on electronic transmissions?” he said. He continued, “In the near-term, we should at least take the step of increasing intra-regional trade by streamlining customs procedures and aligning digital regulations across countries.”
Many countries in the Americas are looking to boost tourism as they seek to spur economic growth following the pandemic. Prime Minister of Jamaica Andrew Holness said he believes tourism has a bright future. “And I think the tourism industry globally–though it has been shaken in the short term–I think in the long term it will be a much stronger, much more resilient, more sustainable, greener, inclusive, and profitable industry,” he said.
Catherine Powell, Global Head of Hosting at Airbnb shares in that optimism, noting that, “Airbnb guests in [the Latin America and Caribbean region] spent 16.4 billion U.S. dollars on direct tourism activity in 2021… and supported over 400,000 jobs.”
Building a sustainable and resilient future
Vice President Harris stressed the need for public-private collaboration: “By working together, we can unleash growth and opportunity that far exceeds what either the public or the private sector would achieve on its own.”
And that includes working together to tackle the threat from climate change. The threat from climate change is more severe for some countries than others in the Western hemisphere. Prime Minister Philip Davis of the Bahamas explained, “The Bahamas has the distinction of consistently showing up in the top rankings of countries most vulnerable to climate change. When hurricanes come, as they do with increasing frequency and intensity, they make headlines in your countries for a few days. But in our home, we’re left with the grief and devastation.”
More than a healthy environment, resilient economies rely on healthy people. More than any region in the world, Latin America suffered devastating impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. Already strained public health systems were placed under immense pressure. According to an analysis from the Wilson Center, “The regional average for public healthcare expenditure is just 3.7% of GDP, well below the 6% recommended by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).”
Sarah Aiosa, President of Latin America for Merck, stated, “I hope that this global crisis has really shined a light on what’s needed to be able to have a resilient health care system and populous nations that should become prosperous ones.”
President of the Republic of Peru José Pedro Castillo said his country is acting. “My administration has increased the budget for the health sector by over 6% compared to that of 2021. In addition, in 2022, we have allocated over 1 billion sols to finance 56 investment projects in the health sector.”
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra announced additional U.S. government investment in the region stating, “We are preparing to announce this week, given our experience here reaching out to communities to try to get them vaccinated in a way that got to everyone, including those that often have danger of being excluded, we’re going to begin Americas Health Corps to get up to half a million new health care workers throughout the Americas to help us cover the gaps that exist throughout the hemisphere,” Becerra said.
Strengthening democratic governance and the rule of law
For economies and societies to thrive, perhaps no other need is more foundational than the need for political stability and strong rule of law. Strengthening democratic governance and the rule of law in the Western hemisphere is imperative not only to safeguard progress that has already been made in expanding just and prosperous societies, but also to further economic growth and stability. Capital flight is often the result of weak democratic and legal institutions. According to Paul Dyck, Vice President of International Government Affairs at Walmart, “One of the biggest obstacles is a lack of transparency or a lack of the rule of law. It stifles development, innovation, growth, and private-sector investment.”
President Rodrigo Chaves of Costa Rica highlighted this, stating, “No society in the world has ever achieved prosperity without a vibrant, innovative, productive private sector that is allowed to operate free of corruption and corrupting. And at the same time a government that provides services that the private sector needs to generate value.”
In his closing remarks to the CEO Summit of the Americas, Secretary of State Blinken expressed his desire that participants “hold ourselves accountable to what is agreed here, the commitments that all of us make to try to move forward, and then see where we are at every step along the way.”
To tune into the CEO Summit of the Americas or to view sessions from the event on demand, visit here.
Associate Manager, Communications and Strategy
Richard is an associate manager on the communications and strategy team.