BY GARY LOCKE
Last April, in Trinidad and Tobago, President Obama outlined a new chapter for an equal partnership in the Americas. While there, the President said: “All of us must now renew the common stake that we have in one another.” He pledged that we seek an equal partnership—saying: “There is no senior partner and junior partner in our relations; there is simply engagement based on mutual respect and common interests and shared values.” (...)
Let there be no doubt, the nations of the Americas rise and fall together. We are linked by geography, by culture and by the interdependence of our economies. (...)
And this moment provides a chance for a new beginning for the Americas. After a wrenching year that almost saw the collapse of the global financial system, we are seeing tentative signs of global recovery. The danger is not over and there is much to be done, butwe are clearly on firmer ground than we were just a few months ago.
As the great poetic and political genius Pablo Neruda once wrote: “You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep spring from coming.” (...)
In challenging economic times like these, some inevitably succumb to the allure of turning inward and closing off markets. Certainly, it has happened in the United States before—most notably during our Great Depression in the 1930s. We cannot let this happen again.
The United States is committed to resisting the protectionist temptation. There's an old saying that history doesn't repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme. And as we survey the past century, we see the familiar rhyme of three events.
One: economic crises can and will happen. Two: during these times of crises, some will advocate limiting trade, closing off borders and protecting domestic industries as a solution to restoring economic growth. Three: these protectionist policies—though they may be well-intended—inevitably fail. Today, we must be especially vigilant against protectionist impulses. Because history has already rendered its verdict on the utility of these measures.
Protectionism does not work. Protectionist policies invite trade wars and reduce living standards for us all. For all their faults, market economies indisputably outperform the alternatives.
Now, I know I'm not the first American official to come to Latin America speaking about the power of markets. Nor am I blind to the fact that some Western-supported market reforms have failed to deliver as promised.
Markets can and do fail. As President Obama has made clear, there are elements of market economies that need to be better-regulated and monitored.
Today, there is still an unacceptable chasm between the haves and have-nots in the Western Hemisphere. Access to education, capital and opportunity remain out of reach for far too many.
But the solution to these problems is not to abandon markets altogether. We need to make them work better, even as we build stronger social safety nets to catch those who fall through the cracks. (...)
[Here's] a story (...) that perfectly illustrates the promise of market economies. I am sure most of you are familiar with the iPhone—which was conceived and designed primarily in California. But it has also emerged as a platform for innovation for people around the world.
One such player is Valemboli, a small Brazilian start-up founded by a 24-year-old software developer. In 2008, Valemboli became one of Brazil’s first companies to develop applications for both the iPhone and iPod Touch. This technology allows optometrists to use the iPhone as a portable tool to measure eyesight. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this application is its reach into global markets—95 percent of the sales of this application were outside of Brazil. Within two months of hitting the market, Valemboli had already recouped its investment and turned a profit—generating jobs and increased standards of living for its employees and their families.
This is the promise of market-based economies. In a market based society, a 24-year-old Brazilian with little previous business experience can innovate and cooperate along side the likes of Apple.
And this program—by allowing optometrists to diagnose patients in far-flung locations—is indisputably making people lives better. And to me, that is what free markets are about.
Despite wars, financial crises and cyclical downturns, the U.S. economy has stuck to an unmistakable upward path for some 200 years. The reason is that we have empowered our people to chase their dreams.
And we have a striking example of the mutually beneficial power of markets (...) between Chile and the U.S.—with our two-way trade growing 216 percent in the five years since the U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement has been in effect.
To be sure, this past year has revealed plenty of faults in our current worldwide market system.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that uncontrolled markets incentivized too many to spend their time engineering mortgage-backed securities and credit default swaps instead of advanced car batteries or groundbreaking new medical innovations.
On the ashes of this crisis, we must ask, “what can be done to build a safer, fairer, more stable and more productive market framework in the Western Hemisphere?
The first step is to change the regulations and incentives in our markets to make sure talent and capital are flowing towards promising long term opportunities in areas like energy and technology and away from speculation and short-term thinking.
A perfect example is climate change. This is one of the greatest challenges the world has ever faced. But it also presents one of the most promising economic opportunities of the early 21st century. In the next few years, some entrepreneur or inventor is going to:
Revolutionize the way we manufacture solar panels or build wind turbines…or Discover a new lightweight battery for electric cars or a safe and affordable way to capture carbon from coal plants. These new ideas and products will fundamentally change the way the world uses energy.
Here in the Western Hemisphere, we should strive to make sure that the brains behind these innovations live, work and create jobs on our side of the globe.
The Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas that President Obama announced at the Summit of the Americas recognized the vital need to cooperate on forging a more secure and sustainable future.
It's a partnership that harnesses the best practices in the hemisphere. And the U.S. is already cooperating with Brazil on the development and integration of next generation biofluels, feedstocks, products and distribution systems.
As we pursue exciting new opportunities for businesses and governments to work together—we have a chance to re-dedicate ourselves to making sure economic benefits are more widely shared.
We must remember that improvements in GDP numbers and corporate profitability are not the ultimate measure of prosperity.
We must continue to fight for the rights of workers, and that means wage and hour protections and measures to ensure safe and secure work environments.
And that also means building on the efforts of American companies that are already giving back to the foreign local communities in which they operate—communities that have provided so much in the form of human and natural resources and vital infrastructure.
For example, (...) in Santiago, La Casa de Acogida, which is partially funded by the Ronald McDonald foundation, provides housing and support networks for young cancer patients and their families.
Projects like this are a win-win for everyone involved. It gives McDonald's employees a renewed sense of purpose in their work and provides an example of how companies can make a tangible difference in people’s lives.
I hope to see many more projects like these in the years ahead.
But ultimately, the most important step the United States will take is working with our partners in the region to create prosperity from the bottom up. (...)
In Chile, the Cisco Corporation through its Cisco Entrepreneur Institute expects to train more than 800 entrepreneurs through a curriculum to promote stronger businesses and economic growth in Chile.
Helping businesses grow is crucial to sustainable prosperity.
That is why I was proud to see President Obama announce a new Micro-Finance Growth Fund for the hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas. This fund is helping restart lending to businesses and entrepreneurs.
And we're also seeing international companies and organizations catalyze local businesses across the region, often with the help of Latin American governments.
The government of Ecuador has recently implemented Public Private Partnership programs to transform the lives of lower income families while protecting the environment and yielding positive economic results for private industry. For example, Nestle has joined with Ecuador’s government to help the country’s cocoa producers. Nestle is transferring technology and training the independent cocoa producers to improve crop quality while significantly increasing yields. It’s helping scores of Ecuadorean families who depend on cocoa for their livelihoods, while allowing Nestle to secure high quality supply in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. It’s a case where everyone wins. Small, local business enterprises like the ones Ecuador and Nestle are helping are the foundation of any successful economy.
That is certainly the case in the United States where small businesses account for half of all private sector workers.
And they have been constant sources of innovation.
Hewlett-Packard, Apple, Google, even McDonald’s, all started out as an idea in one person's mind. In the case of Apple, Steve Jobs began building each computer one by one, by hand.
Who is to say that the 24-year-old from Brazil, the man behind Valemboli is not on his way to having similar success? I know this: if we keep our markets open, he'll have a chance.
I (...) affirm that the Obama Administration will be your strongest ally in your efforts to revive economic growth in all the Americas. Although most of us live thousands of miles apart, we still share many of the same values. We all want to live in a world where our children and grandchildren enjoy better opportunities than the ones we had. And the United States will stand with all of those who seek to achieve these dreams for their people.
Gary Locke is the US Secretary of Commerce. This column is based on an excerpt of his keynote remarks at the opening ceremony of the Americas Competitiveness Forum in Santiago, Chile on September 28, 2009.