The countries of the Americas face an ‘unprecedented opportunity’ for sustained growth supported by a newfound sense of optimism, said the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Jose Miguel Insulza at the Palm Beach Strategic Forum.
The conference organized by the International Economic Forum of the Americas, brought together more than 70 global business leaders, politicians, and academics to discuss the topic The Path to Economic Growth and Insulza delivered a keynote address on the state of economic integration in the Americas.
“As the hemisphere’s population approaches one billion, governments, business and international organizations have an unprecedented opportunity to work in partnership to position Latin American and Caribbean countries to maximize their individual and joint capacities to reap the benefits of deeper economic integration and to achieve sustained growth, stability and prosperity”, pointed out Insulza.
He highlighted the existence of a newfound sense of optimism largely due to ”the fact that the regional economies bounced back so quickly (from the great recession of 2009) just one year after many of the leading economies experienced even negative growth rates.”
In short, he said that “if you compare the region throughout the last decade, from 2002 to 2012, that period saw more growth than the two previous decades put together.”
Insulza also underlined that the quick recovery that occurred in several countries was not solely due to the increase in prices of commodities, but also to the fact that their economies were better prepared and were managed in a much better way than in previous crises”.
As for the economic integration of the region, the head of OAS said that hemispheric trade has grown substantially” in the last 20 years.
“The countries of the Americas have signed over 80 free trade agreements” and “the success of intra-regional trade agreements is such that by 2015 these agreements will have freed more than 95% of the covered products at the regional level”.
However Insulza warned that there are serious challenges ahead including a lack of domestic investment, adequate infrastructure, and a well-trained workforce. Poverty and inequality continue to be among the most serious problems facing the economies of the region, he affirmed.
As to democracy and freedoms, Insulza said that in Latin America, our democracies are not perfect, but the region has come a long way in recent decades. The challenge today is to build on the improvements in democracy in the region where today elections are clean, a majority of citizens can vote and the results reflect the actual vote”.
But not all is enchanting: in the fifteen years from 1990 to 2005, eighteen elected governments ended their mandates prematurely, by coups, resignations in the midst of severe upheavals, or impeachments. However from June 2005 to this day, only two such events have occurred, he said.
Thus institutional weaknesses in Latin America represent a challenge to democratic governance because we have weak and poorly funded governments to address such serious problems.
For that reason he said government reform should start with fiscal reform that will increase government revenue and, at the same time, become a legitimate method for redistribution of revenue, as occurs in all countries of the developed world”.
Besides the representatives from OAS member states and associates, some of the personalities participating in the Forum include Governor of Texas, Rick Perry; Florida Governor Rick Scott; former President of Bolivia, Jorge Quiroga; the Governor of the Central Bank of Iceland, Màr Guômundsson; the Chairman of the Council of the Americas, John Negroponte; US Representative for the Florida 22nd district, Lois Frankel.