Remarks by Vice President Harris at the CEO Summit of the Americas
InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown
Los Angeles, California
11:05 A.M. PDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Well, first, I want to thank the Chamber of Commerce for organizing this CEO Summit and for bringing together so many leaders from business across the hemisphere.
We gather today in pursuit of a shared goal: to build a prosperous and inclusive future for the people of the Western Hemisphere. This is a priority for President Joe Biden and me — a priority, I know, that everyone here shares.
The economies of the Western Hemisphere are deeply intertwined. And the work we do to strengthen these ties directly impacts the American people.
Our neighbors in the Western Hemisphere comprise the largest market for American goods. The region accounts for nearly 50 percent of all American exports. And when we have resilient and secure supply chains that are close to us, disruptions will be less frequent, more goods will be available, and prices will come down.
From Canada to Chile, a prosperous region benefits all our economies and creates more opportunities for our people.
Here’s how I see it: To realize a more prosperous future for our hemisphere, public-private partnerships are essential — partnerships that combine the private sector and its experience and expertise with the reach and capacity that only governments can provide.
By working together, we can unleash growth and opportunity that far exceeds what either the public or the private sector would achieve on its own.
I want to offer a scenario. Imagine what could happen when governments and companies collaborate.
So, picture this. Imagine a woman in Honduras who lives in a small rural town. She’s a single mother. She has two children. She does not have a formal education and has never had steady work. Instead, she takes on an odd job here or there. She often lays awake at night, worried about whether she can put enough food on the table, wondering if her children can break the cycle of poverty that is all too common where she lives.
Then, let’s imagine a beverage company announces new investments sourcing coffee from her hometown in western Honduras. Imagine that the company then offers her a job cultivating that coffee. Imagine an international aid program provides lunch for her children at school, improving their nutrition and their health; that a financial company helps her open a bank account in the form of a digital wallet. Imagine that she now has some disposable income, and she saves, and she starts moving up the economic ladder.
And then, a telecommunications company makes an investment and connects her town to the Internet, and she gains access to new information and online tools that will help her really reach into her imagination about what she can achieve. And so, she then starts to think about an entrepreneurship based on her vision for herself and her community.
Imagine that USAID provides her with a grant to establish her own eco-tourism business and that she accesses credit for the first time, and she hires employees, and her business grows, and she thrives.
This story illustrates what I believe is possible when governments and business truly integrate our approach. This scenario is, then, our vision for millions of people as part of our strategy to address the root causes of migration from Central America.
Last year, I began work to lead this effort. And I approached this task with three basic principles. First, I do believe most people don’t want to leave home. They don’t want to leave their grandmother. They don’t want to leave the place where they worship and the community that they’ve always known.
And so, when they do, it is usually for one of two reasons: They are fleeing harm, or to stay means they simply cannot satisfy their basic needs or the needs of their family.
The second principle that is informing our call to action and this approach is my and our belief that governments alone cannot address this issue. We must partner with the private sector if we are to have lasting impact and if we are to maximize our capacity.
Third, I believe that to attract meaningful investment, part of our agenda and strategy must include a priority that is to combat corruption, promote the rule of law, reduce violence, and empower women.
So, these are the guiding principles that inform our Root Causes Strategy. And this Strategy is aligned with the importance that many of the of the leaders here know and live — the importance of paying attention to a good return on investment, consistency and predictability, a skilled workforce, and a reliable infrastructure.
As part of this strategy, last year I launched the Call to Action focused on northern Central America and encouraged companies and civil society to deepen their commitment in the region and to expand collaboration, to invest, and to contribute to long-term development.
In particular, I’d like to change — or thank the Chamber of Commerce, the Partnership for Central America, and the 40 companies and organizations that have made commitments thus far. These are long-terms efforts, and we are making progress.
Yesterday, I announced we have now generated more than $3.2 billion. This investment is on track to generate tens of thousands of jobs. It will help more than 10 million people access banking services and credit. And 2 million people already have been connected to the Internet, with millions more to follow.
In parallel, we are taking the steps that only government can. Our administration has made tackling corruption a top policy priority. This work incorporates an understanding that rule of law, consistency, and stability are necessary for economies to thrive.
Another pillar of our Strategy is to train, protect, and empower women and to address gender-based violence. I think we all know protecting the safety and security of women is the right thing to do and empowering women drives economic growth.
Experts and top universities are now in the midst of studying our Call to Action as an innovative model of public-private partnership — a model for development efforts in other regions.
It is apparent to me that the best approach entails the full involvement of the private sector, governments, and civil society. And, of course, the idea of a public-private partnership is not new.
But what I believe distinguishes the Call to Action is the integration of so many efforts in one ecosystem. This ecosystem includes some companies that are even competitors with one another. This ecosystem also includes civil society organizations and the convening power of the United States government and our ability to scale.
The Call to Action brings all of these sectors together to collaborate, coordinate, and share lessons learned.
Yesterday, in fact, I met with several business executives who made new commitments as part of this initiative. We discussed how powerful it is to see how each investment — each investment fits into the larger picture. In corporate speak: We identified many synergies.
And this coordination allows us to address the full spectrum of needs in a given region under one integrated plan. Together, we are creating an ecosystem of opportunity.
And any good public policy, of course, must then be designed with an eye for replication. I believe truly that our approach can indeed be applied elsewhere on other issues, in other parts of our hemisphere, and even by other governments.
When I think about all the challenges we face in the Western Hemisphere, I know that they will require new and innovative coalitions between the public and private sectors. One size does not fit all, of course.
But think about it: Economic inequality in our hemisphere is among the worst in the world. Women and girls in our hemisphere face far too many barriers and far too few opportunities.
Many countries in the region are still struggling to recover from the pandemic. Health systems are strained. The climate crisis is mounting. And we continue to see corruption, migration flows, and democratic backsliding, and violence.
These issues affect all of us. And the solutions then must involve all of us.
I believe there is untapped potential for us to partner in these areas and so many more — in the area of clean energy, food security, health, supply chains, infrastructure, and more.
Later today, President Joe Biden will officially open the Summit of the Americas to lay out his ambitious vision for shared prosperity in our hemisphere, now and into the future.
Our ongoing partnership with the private sector will play a crucial role in realizing this vision.
And I urge all of the leaders here to consider what you can continue to do to partner within the context of the vision I know we share.
Needless to say, each of you here has the power to act to help solve some of the most pressing challenges of our time.
Our partnership can create new opportunities for individuals to not only succeed but to thrive.
For companies, it can create new opportunities to grow and to innovate.
And for our hemisphere as a whole, it can create new opportunities to connect and to prosper.
I look forward to partnering with all of you in the months and the years ahead. I thank you for your leadership. And I look forward to the work we will do.
Thank you. (Applause.)
END 11:19 A.M. PDT