Remarks by USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean Mark Lopes to the Bogota Chamber of Commerce in Bogota, Colombia

Thursday, December 1, 2011
Subject 
Doing Business in Latin America: Sharing Reform Experiences

En Español

Good morning and thank you for inviting me to be with you today. It's a great privilege to be here with World Bank Group leadership, senior Colombian government officials, and so many distinguished participants from throughout the region.

I want to congratulate the World Bank Group for the recent launch of the ninth Doing Business report. USAID has had the honor of playing a central role in the Doing Business project from the beginning, and we are proud of the accomplishments that the report has spurred, not just in Latin America, but throughout the 183 countries covered globally.

It's fitting that Bogota is playing host to this event. Colombia has made such impressive progress in recent years that the Doing Business report has recognized the country as a top 10 global reformer.

Moreover, I feel a familial connection being here in Colombia for this event.

In 1961, President Kennedy founded USAID and the Peace Corps, and that year, the first group of Peace Corps volunteers arrived in Colombia. Sixty five men stepped foot in Colombia that day, and my father, Phil Lopes, was among them. He was a farmer and a welder, and he started to form a relationship with Colombians in Santander del Sur, thus planting the seed of my family's deep connection with this great region.

As you all know, the region today is a lot different than in 1961, and our relationship has evolved greatly since then, and will continue to evolve. I would like to talk about this evolution in the context of the Doing Business report.

We are very optimistic about the policies of President Santos' administration to drive economic growth in social inclusion. We also recognize that Colombia has shown strong leadership in assuming the financing of various programs that USAID previously financed.

For example, initially USAID financed 38% of a Internally Displaced Persons program that cost more than $100 million, but now funds 5% of a nearly $900 million program. Also, we initially financed more than 85% of a Consolidation program, with the Government of Colombia and other donors covering the rest, but now those percentages have flipped.

Doing Business gives us a tool to focus attention on key reforms. As the U.S. Global Development Policy - the first of its kind for an American administration, announced last year - states: The United States cannot do all things, do them well, and do them everywhere. Therefore, we should focus our efforts where we can maximize impact over the long term.

For example, we will never support every businessman directly. It is not possible, and it is not desirable.

While our USAID slogan says that our programs are "from the American people," they are also for the American people. In other words, the American people do not want us to hand out charity, and we know that the people of the region don't want that either. Rather, we see our role in this Doing Business initiative as a systemic investment, with benefits that outweigh the costs.

Particularly with limited resources, but even if we had all the resources we wanted, this type of intervention, where we work together to create a better business enabling environment, is a change that should be welcome in every country in the region. It is also an investment that the American people can support. Our ability to work together, on topics of mutual interest, is what has made this initiative a success.

This is one example of how our assistance has evolved, and I would like to mention two more.

First, I have seen an increase in collaborative efforts within the region, such as Chile working with Paraguay on customs and Brazil assisting Haiti with reconstruction. Colombia has also played a very active role. This type of collaboration is positive and we want to support it.

For that reason, we have formed trilateral cooperation agreements with countries like India, South Africa, Chile and Brazil - because the more we can be brokers of regional expertise rather than wholesalers of U.S. expertise, the better off we all are.

Second, we recognize that the private sector is a central, not a peripheral, player. So, we have redoubled our efforts with private actors and allied with companies like Walmart, SwissRe, and Kraft Foods to marshal more technical and financial resources to create jobs and increase incomes in the region. Through these alliances, businesses can contribute to the development of the countries in which they operate, while also advancing their core business goals.

This week, Secretary of State Clinton is with many of your Ministers in Busan, South Korea, discussing themes such as trilateral cooperation and the central role of the private sector.

USAID's vision for economic development in Latin America does not necessarily involve more assistance from governments like the United States or other donors. Rather, given the evolutions noted above, our vision is based on mutual interests and a strong commitment to shared responsibility.

Because, as President Obama has stated: "the purpose of development -- what's needed most right now -- is creating the conditions where assistance is no longer needed."

This evolution is evident in various countries in the region, and it is something that we should celebrate.

I want to mention the well-known link between economic progress and citizen security and note that Colombia is a great success story with much experience to share. As you all know, public opinion surveys in the region routinely point to citizen security as the primary concern of the people.

I also want to emphasize the role of subnational economic actors. We have supported the publication of Doing Business reports at the subnational level in Colombia and Mexico, because capital cities do not have a monopoly when it comes to driving economic growth.

Next year will mark the tenth anniversary of the Doing Business report. As we approach this milestone, we need to do two things:

First, we need to change the current reality in which Latin America shows the slowest pace of reform of any region in the world. There is no reason why this region cannot surpass the others. When the next Doing Business report is released, it should show that Latin America has reformed faster than any other region.

Second, various countries have impressive indicators - Peru, for example, performs well with regards to registering property, Honduras on getting credit, and Panama on trading across borders - but we have not seen these successes being transferred sufficiently within the region. In other words, we are not taking advantage of our neighbors' knowledge and experiences. We have opened a window to this type of exchange, but we need to kick down the door. Now is not a time to be humble, but rather to be open, collaborative, and inclusive.

Ever since my father arrived in Santander del Sur fifty years ago, the relationship between the United States and the countries of this region has evolved so much. It is truly an honor to be able to participate in this evolution with you all, and I look with much optimism towards the changes that are still to come.

 Thank you.

Bogota Chamber of Commerce, Bogota, Colombia

Last updated: June 12, 2012

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