Acting Administrator John Barsa’s Closing Remarks at American Enterprise Institute Event on Central America

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Thank you, Roger, for leading us through such a robust discussion today. And thank you to the American Enterprise Institute for hosting us.

I’d also like to congratulate Mauricio for his election as President of the IDB. There is no better advocate for Latin America and the Caribbean, and this is a win for the Americas.

It’s a pleasure to join you all this afternoon to round out this discussion. As we’ve discussed, harnessing the private sector is vital to building a more prosperous future in Central America.

The economic impacts of COVID-19 in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have been undeniable.

In this year alone, GDP in the region may drop by a stunning 8 percent. And we know that it’s the workers in the informal economy that will be hit the hardest.

That’s why the U.S. is working with the region to respond to the pandemic and accelerate private investment.

Private sector-led investment is the key to ensuring long-term, sustainable growth...growth that allows citizens to thrive at home, rather than attempting to make the dangerous journey north.

September 15th is Independence Day for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. And on this special occasion, I am proud to stand with our neighbors and commit to building a more prosperous future for the region.

Through America Crece, the U.S. is pioneering a whole-of-government approach to boost private investment across Latin America and the Caribbean.

This initiative is catalyzing private investment in energy, infrastructure, digital technology, and supply chains throughout the region. We are bolstering U.S. private investment, while serving as a counterweight to malign actors with less than charitable interests.

At USAID, we are building on our strong, collaborative relationship with the DFC to achieve these goals.

As a member of the DFC’s Board of Directors, I speak with DFC leadership on a regular basis, making sure that our agencies are working together to mobilize private sector resources for sustainable development.

USAID is working aggressively to counter the economic hardships brought on by the pandemic. If unaddressed, these hardships could result in urgent and widespread shortages of food and basic needs.

USAID’s technical expertise and on-the-ground presence, alongside the DFC’s various investment tools, are a perfect complement to confront the pandemic and advance prosperity in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Each of our USAID Missions has a dedicated DFC liaison. Someone who leverages local networks to identify potential deals, to sharpen due diligence, and to capture valuable market intelligence.

USAID is creating the conditions that make the region ripe for investment.

We are providing technical assistance to complement DFC deals with partners like the Central American Bank of Economic Integration.

We help local banks reach new borrowers, particularly small or rural businesses that may struggle to access capital.

We also work with these local enterprises to strengthen their financial management and operations, to ensure that they are eligible for DFC financing.

In Guatemala, our team has already identified and developed 22 potential projects with the DFC, adding up to a total value of $552 million.

In Honduras, we’re partnering with local companies to diversify their products, expand their exports, and create new jobs. For example, we’re supporting JJ Agro, the largest potato supplier for Walmart Honduras, to diversify into strawberries and to grow their local market.

Our Mission in Honduras has developed an extensive pipeline of potential deals in the agriculture and tourism sectors, representing investment opportunities that total over $200 million.

In El Salvador, USAID is assisting the government and the private sector to access financing from the DFC and create job opportunities. By working with the government to blunt the economic impact of COVID-19, we are reducing the pressure for Salvadorans to leave their country in search of better opportunity.

Ultimately, we partner with the private sector to increase business opportunities and create local jobs, so Central Americans can continue to build a secure future for their families and communities.

A vibrant private sector and economy allows families to thrive at home, without worrying how to put food on the table.

USAID and the DFC play a critical role in propelling economies to become robust and resilient, where entrepreneurs and long-term investments can flourish. We gear up small businesses to succeed, and we support accountable government institutions that ensure fair competition and attract international investment.

In the face of COVID-19, economic resilience is more critical now than ever before.

We are continuing our leading role in the global response to COVID-19. And we are leading the world in recovering from the pandemic and the knock-on effects.

In Central America, we’re providing state-of-the-art ventilators, and we’re working to prevent and control infections in health facilities.

Also, to address the economic impacts, we’re creating jobs, increasing access to credit, and forming economic response teams to support small businesses—including in Guatemala’s migration-prone Western Highlands.

Our assistance reinforces who we are as Americans, the most generous and compassionate people in the world. We provide assistance that is high-quality and transparent.

On the other hand, China’s contributions to fighting the pandemic are paltry. The bulk of China’s COVID-19 “assistance” has been in the form of photo ops and faulty personal protective equipment.

No other nation can match our generosity, our collaborative approach, or our long-term commitment. This is what we do, and this is who we are as Americans.

Thank you for allowing me to join today’s important event. In these historic times, we have the opportunity to revitalize how we do business, and how we harness new ideas to reach more people in a time of profound need.

There is a lot to do in the years to come. USAID looks forward to working with the DFC — and new leadership of the IDB — to take strong steps forward to advance regional prosperity and reverse the pandemic’s impacts.

Partnering hand in hand with the spirit of free enterprise is foundational to our efforts toward a more prosperous future for all. Thank you.

American Enterprise Institute

Last updated: September 15, 2020

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