The White House
Office of the Vice President
Remarks to the Press by Vice President Joe Biden and President Ricardo Martinelli of Panama
Panama City, Panama
11:42 A.M. EST
PRESIDENT MARTINELLI: (As interpreted.) Thank you very much. First of all, I would like to welcome Vice President Joseph Biden and his entire team, made up of senators, representatives and mayors from various cities in the United States, as well as their aides.
This has been a very profitable meeting in which we have discussed a variety of subjects, among which is the subject of security -- regional security -- and the ongoing support that Panama and the United States contribute for hemispheric security with everything involving drug trafficking, terrorism, and other forms of trafficking.
Likewise we have discussed the expansion of the Canal and how significant and important it is for world commerce, as well as, very specially, for the East Coast of the United States. It is imperative and necessary that the ports on the East Coast of the United States increase the dredging capability of their ports and go to at least 50 feet depth in order to take advantage of the new sizes of ships -- the post-Panamax ships that will be able to transit the Panama Canal with the expansion. For that purpose, it’s necessary for the East Coast ports in the United States to increase their depth to 50 feet. This will bring a number of benefits not only for Panama and for the world economy, but also for the enormous amount of jobs and other opportunities that will be created in an enormous number of ports in the United States.
As you well know, the Panamanian government and the Panama Canal have begun the expansion of the Canal, and this Canal expansion leads to a completion in 2015. And likewise, we have discussed with Vice President Biden that already the United States and a number of other friendly countries must begin to study the possibility of Canal expansion, to do the appropriate studies so that when they’re done in a few years, what is called a fourth set of locks be completed, because as you well know, the world maritime community is continually innovating and increasing capabilities, and therefore, there is great potential for Panama to continue taking advantage of its position as a multimodal hub, which is very well complemented by what is happening in the ports along the East Coast of the United States.
We've also discussed the diplomatic and commercial relationship between Panama and the United States, and both governments will continue to work on the improvement of these relations and in order to increase world trade and hemispheric security.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, Mr. President, let me begin by saying it’s great to be with you again. You’ve been a great friend to my country and you’ve been a good friend to me. And I appreciate it very much.
Folks, we had a terrific conversation with the President and his Cabinet. And my colleagues and I -- the mayors of some of the largest cities in America, as well as United States Senator Johnny Isakson from the great state of Georgia, and the gentlewoman, the Congresswoman from south Florida -- we had one of the best conversations that I've experienced, and I've been doing this a long time.
And I want to thank you, Mr. President, your administration, and the Panamanian people, for your friendship to the United States of America. And again, I want to personally thank the Panamanian people for that friendship.
You know, modernizing the Canal, Mr. President, is an investment in your future, but it is also a consequential investment in the future of the United States of America. It protects Panama’s unique place in the world economy as a new generation of massive container ships and tankers hits the high seas. You're moving from the ability to accommodate a ship that's 106 feet wide to a ship that's 160 feet wide, doubling the commerce. And it’s an incredible consequence to this global economy.
But the reason I traveled here -- with our Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx; the Senator from Georgia, Senator Isakson; the Congresswoman from Florida, Debbie Wasserman- Shultz; the Atlanta Mayor -- the Mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed; the Mayor of Baltimore, Stephanie Rollins-Blake; and the Mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter -- and your press may be asking, why am I mentioning each of their names. I mention each of their names because they are in and they lead cities that have the potential to vastly expand the economic commerce, the jobs and the economy of their states and cities as a consequence of what the Panamanian people have done.
And it matters -- it matters a great deal to the American people. It matters to our manufacturers. It matters to our farmers, our Merchant Marine, and our longshoremen. It matters a great deal, as you know, Mr. President, to businessmen that will enable American business to be more competitive. People locate businesses and manufacturing facilities in places where they can quickly, cheaply, and responsibly get their product to market. That only occurs if there is serious infrastructure to accommodate what the world economy is witnessing as a consequence of the Canal being widened, because when goods travel faster and cheaper, it increases commerce around the world.
And it matters to the people those businesses will hire because this will create jobs -- not only jobs it's already created in Panama, but jobs in the United States of America and up and down the Americas. The fact of the matter is these are not just ordinary jobs, these are good, decent jobs -- jobs you can raise a middle-class family on, jobs that you can care for your family.
So that’s a long way of saying, Mr. President, we owe you and the people of Panama for continuing to have a forward-looking vision and not only strengthening your country, but quite frankly, strengthening the Hemisphere.
It's also a reflection of a larger reality, Mr. President, that you and I have talked about in the past and again today, and that is the Americans -- the Americas, the Western Hemisphere, I say to all the people of Panama -- the Western Hemisphere is emerging as a region of opportunity. In the mind of President Obama and me, there is no reason why the 20th century -- the 21st century will not be led by the Western Hemisphere as the center of gravity for the world economy.
Latin America, for the first time in our lifetime, has -- first time in history -- has 150 million people who are middle class, and strong -- for the first time. For the first time in history you can look from Canada to the tip of Argentina and envision a hemisphere that is democratic, middle class, and secure -- and growing. That has never occurred before in history.
The world's -- Latin America, particularly North America, is emerging as the energy center of gravity for the world. It's shifting to the Western Hemisphere; from the sands of the Arabian Peninsula to the Western Hemisphere. It will be the new center of gravity for energy production in the world. We can now realistically envision and work toward, as I said, an Americas that are secure, middle class and democratic from the continent -- from Canada all the way to the tip of South America.
The question in my country is no longer what I believe Latin Americans are tired of hearing -- this notion of a benevolent America, the United States, what can we do for our brethren in the Hemisphere. It's no longer that. That’s not how President Obama and I look at it. We look at it as what can we do together -- what can we do together. And what you've done with the Canal is an example of the mutual contributions being made.
This is a region -- the Hemisphere is a region that is growing and has unlimited potential. And so it's what can we do together -- no longer -- as I said earlier, it's no longer these assertions of America's backyard. This is the front yard. This is a different world. This is a different set of opportunities for all of us. And that’s what President Martinelli and I spoke about today, and, I must admit, we've spoken about it in the past privately.
We discussed the next steps forward in our economic partnership. The United States supports Panama's long-term ambition to build an economy that rivals Singapore; one where there is fair competition, high standards, the rule of law, and transparent and open markets. That is the future. That will be the gold standard. That’s the standard to which countries will repair, attract investment and jobs and growth.
These are the principles behind the U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement. And in the years since it went in force, trade between the United States and Panama has already grown in one year by 18 percent.
But there's much more work to be done. We support Panama's effort to level the economic playing field, reduce corruption -- something every country has to contend with. We want to work together to iron out the last unresolved issues to fully implement the trade agreement that we have made.
And just as you connect the Atlantic and Pacific, Mr. President, Panama can be the economic bridge between the North and the South in a literal sense. That’s the choice for Panamanians to make, not for the United States, but you can be that bridge. The benefits of greater regional economic integration in connecting roads, energy grids, markets, they are considerable. They're considerable not only for Panama but for the hemisphere. As President Obama said in Costa Rica in May, if you and your neighbors choose this path, the United States will be there and help you get there.
You know, we're ready right now to make it easier for personal travel to take place, make it easier for Panamanians to travel to the United States. Today, I'm pleased to announce on behalf of President Obama that Panama will be the newest member of the U.S. Global Entry Program. That means Panamanian citizens can be prescreened to travel faster through immigration ports in the United States of America. Facilitating the flow of people is good for trade, it's good for tourism, and it's good for relationships between the countries. It's a reflection of our friendship and our trust in Panama and the Panamanian people. And we're honored that President Martinelli will be the first Panamanian citizen to take part in this.
And I want to say to your Minister of Security, Mr. Mulino, the great work that Panama has done on the security side of the equation.
As we streamline the travel and trade, we're also working together to stop illegal trafficking. Panama has interdicted 175 metric tons of cocaine. Cooperation between our law enforcement agencies is excellent and been at a peak that hasn't existed before. And Panama is rising and in some cases exceeding its responsibilities not only to us, but to the region.
And so last July, a vessel traveling through the Panama Canal from Cuba to North Korea claimed it was carrying sugar. Well, it was a sweet cargo, but it wasn't sugar. It wasn't sugar. And Panama did something we haven't come to expect everywhere in the world -- it stepped up. It stepped up where others might have stepped back. We think it's a violation of U.S. sanctions [sic]. But, nonetheless, Panama stepped up. You found and confiscated weapons heading from Cuba to North Korea.
The United States is thankful for your taking on that international responsibility. And you made a significant contribution for real to global security, not just U.S. security. We are pretty well capable of handling our own security. But you contributed to global security. That is what responsible nations do and that's what you have done.
And as a member of the Organization of American States, we also made a collective commitment -- you and I and the Organization of American States -- to hold free and fair elections. President Martinelli reaffirmed his commitment to that today.
It's larger than any one of us. Each democratic success story, each democratic election stacked upon one another, strengthens the entire hemisphere. That's how the hemisphere is being built. Panama has an opportunity to do just that again when you go to the polls in 2014.
And I look forward, as I've told the President, today, after leaving here and going to my embassy, and we're going to go to the Canal, I'm also going to meet with the respective presidential candidates in the 2014 election.
And, finally, I updated President Martinelli and his colleagues in our efforts to achieve comprehensive immigration reform. It is the priority for the President and me now. We need -- we need -- to update and make more rational our immigration policy in the United States of America. It's a matter of simple justice and respect. Respect and dignity needs to be brought to the 11 million undocumented men, women and children, allowing them to come out of the shadows. They are not only Hispanic. They represent every part of the world. They are Asian. They are Irish. They are Russian. They are African. But they deserve to be treated with dignity.
In my experience in the family I come from, you measure a man or woman in how they feel about you and how they treat the people who are like you. This is a matter -- this is a matter of respect. This is a matter of hemispheric respect, in my view.
And so, when we respect your countrymen on our soil, I hope that sends the message as to how we feel -- that we respect you and all folks in the hemisphere. And we do. But it's also a matter, as you pointed out in your own immigration policy here, Mr. President, it's also a matter of just naked self-interest -- naked self-interest.
Our Congressional Budget Office, sort of the gold standard of what constitutes economic growth -- our Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that the comprehensive immigration reform the President and I are pushing will grow the U.S. economy by $1.4 trillion over the next decade and a half -- $1.4 trillion.
I was saying that recently -- I've traveled about 800,000 miles since being Vice President. I was recently in Singapore. And if I can say, I told the President -- and this is not part of my formal remarks -- but I met with one of the wisest men that most leaders around the world have sought out -- Lee Kuan Yew, a former President of Singapore. And I sat with him. And he is 92 years old, and his health is somewhat frail, but his mind is, as my mother would say, sharp as a tack. I don't know how you translate that into Spanish. (Laughter.)
But I sat with him and I said, “Mr. President, what is China doing now?” He said, the Chinese are in America, “The United States looking for that black box that is buried.” And I'm thinking black box? What does he mean by that? It's like the flight recorder data in an aircraft. I said, black box? He said, yes. He said, “That secret that allows the United States to be the only country in the world that constantly is able to remake itself, to reinvent itself.”
And, I said, oh, Mr. President, I can tell you what's in that black box. It's a constant stream of immigration. It's the constant refurbishing of the energy of America by new cultures, new language, new people.
And, I said the second thing in that black box is every America has stamped in their DNA, whether they are immigrants or they are born there, that they have -- every young student is encouraged to shed the notion of respect for orthodoxy. The only way new things happen is when orthodoxy is put aside. That's the secret of the United States of America. And Panama and the rest of this hemisphere is a big part of the secret of our success.
So I came to say thank you, Mr. President -- thank you, thank the Panamanian people -- and I look forward to this relationship continuing to grow and prosper. And as a consequence of what you've done at the Canal, we have the possibility of expanding our economy by hundreds of billions of dollars over the near term.
So, thank you, Mr. President. And I look forward to seeing you again. (Applause.)
12:03 P.M. EST