Remarks to the Press by the Vice President and Dominican President Medina
The Presidential Palace
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
2:30 P.M. EDT
PRESIDENT MEDINA: (As interpreted.) Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to welcome Vice President Joe Biden and his delegation in the name of the government and the people of the Dominican Republic, as well as in my own name.
I would like also to take the opportunity of our distinguished guest to send a message of friendship and solidarity to President Barack Obama and to the people of the United States.
In his public, as well as his private life, Vice President Biden is an example of tenacity and strength before adversities, qualities that determine the leadership that he has in his country and the world. His visit to our land, crib of the expansion of the Western world to the Americas comes to deepen our relations with the United States based in respect and mutual collaboration.
In the meeting that we just concluded, we have overviewed the bilateral relation and touched on points of mutual interest, amongst which security in the area of the Caribbean and Central America, the fight against the scourge of illegal drug trafficking, the topic of energy and trade may be underscored.
The Dominican Republic and the United States work hand in hand to guarantee security in the area of the Caribbean and Central America. The joint efforts are crucial to combat illegal drug trafficking, but also trafficking in persons, and containment of illegal immigration. In this respect we thank you for your support that is now manifested also through the initiatives promoted by the United States in favor of regional security in the actions of the Central American Integration System.
As you all know, the United States is our main trade partner. And since the signing of the free trade agreement, DR-CAFTA, exports to that market have grown by 24 percent, from $3 billion in 2007 to $4.2 billion just last year. Trade between our nations amounted $12 billion in 2012. And the Dominican Republic is the ninth place for U.S. exports to the Western Hemisphere.
We are aware, however, of the fact that DR-CAFTA also presents challenges. As a product of the great asymmetries between our economies, we trust to have the collaboration of the United States so that our trade be undertaken always under conditions of fairness that are sustainable for our producers. Our concern -- sustainable for our producers. In this respect, I must indicate that we are very pleased with the answer that President Obama gave to the letter that we sent related to the dangers that the Trans Pacific Partnership represents for the Dominican economy. We trust that the United States will take into consideration our concern, and that we will not be forced to compete at a disadvantage in the U.S. market.
Another fundamental aspect of our agenda has been energy security, a topic of vital importance for this government because of its profound repercussions in our national budget, and of course in the development of our nation. The Dominican Republic has launched an ambitious transformation agenda in energy, an integral project that should take us to overcome the energy deficit once and for all.
Amongst our objective, we have diversification of the energy matrix, with emphasis in use of renewable sources of energy, strategy in which we are receiving the technical support of the United States. And I take this opportunity to thank you for it.
We attach great value to the interest of the United States to support our energy self-sufficiency. As a country with limited resources, we must explore the different sources of energy to find a balance between clean energy and generation cost. In this respect, aware of the fact that the United States very soon will be exporting natural gas, we want to underscore our wish to be included as one of the priority markets for gas exportation. This will help us notably reduce energy costs, one of the crucial strategic objectives for competitiveness and development in our country.
I must underscore, however, that beyond trade relations, the United States and the Dominican Republic are brought together by brotherhood ties, by living together of thousands -- of hundreds of thousands of families, more than 1.5 million Dominicans that live currently in the United States, and approximately the same number of U.S. tourists that visit our country, in addition to the 250,000 U.S. citizens that live in the Dominican Republic. That is a tie that cannot be broken, that makes both countries responsible to create better conditions for our citizens within and outside our own borders.
In this regard, I would like to once again express our gratitude to the government and the people of the United States for the support offered to put into operation of what is already an initiative without precedence in our country for protection of our citizens. And I am referring to the 911 Security and Emergency System. Into its third week of operations, we can now say that it is already transforming attention and services to the public for always. This good result promotes that we work with enthusiasm in its expansion into other zones of the country. And we count on the support of the United States.
Our relations with the United States are and will continue to be excellent. Our purpose, our objective has been that they reflect the maturity of both democracies manifested as a partnership with a common purpose of moving forward for the development of our people. As in all partnerships, mutual respect must be an inviolable rule. Understanding that always amongst partners, we can have disagreements. What is important, however, is to be able to discuss them through dialogue and convince that the dignity of one country transcends beyond its borders.
In summary, our conversation has been a frank, open, respectful dialogue, as it should be among friends. To the United States, we are brought to by geography, democratic values and love of freedom, our interest is that today such close relationship may come even closer in the future. I trust that that will be the case after this memorable visit.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Mr. President, thank you for your hospitality. I think we worried our teams that we were going to stay down in your office and continue to talk we were getting on so well and leave them out of the discussion. But we’re about to have lunch, and we’re going to pursue some of the things we’ve already discussed.
I want to thank you -- and I want to apologize to you, Mr. President, for having to postpone my trip. I was due here a month or so ago, and events called me into an emergency, prevented me from being here. And the only one more disappointed than me was my wife, Jill, who was scheduled to come with me at the time, and now is not able to be with me. So I’m in a little bit of trouble for not having been able to keep the first date.
But I did bring along with me, Mr. President, because I wanted her to see your beautiful country and become more acquainted, I brought along my granddaughter. My granddaughter is with me. She is 13 years old. And I brought along my nephew. And so we came to the Dominican Republic.
As you pointed out to me, I’m the first Vice President to visit the Republic since 1980. And I’m here for a simple reason, on behalf of the President of the United States, because as you do, Mr. President, we believe very, very deeply in the importance of the relationship. And I said to you and I’ve said throughout the hemisphere that it is no longer the United States, this administration looking to the hemisphere, looking to the Dominican Republic and concluding what can we do for you. It’s not about doing anything for anybody. It’s about doing with you.
We have an inordinate respect for your democracy, respect for you, and respect for the people. And this is about equals -- equal sovereign nations dealing with one another. And as you point out, we mostly agree on almost everything. Where we disagree, we have an opportunity to tell each other where and when we disagree. We’re not there yet so far. But the truth of the matter is this is the relationship that is based on mutual respect. And they're not just words. That is what our policy is about. It’s mutual respect.
We can see how close we are. As you pointed out, we have a million and a half Dominicans, many of whom are my friends and constituents, who live in the United States of America. And there are more than a million tourists that flock here. And the only thing you didn't mention is baseball. (Laughter.) Baseball is the sinew that holds us together at the end of the day, as a baseball fan. And so that is -- that should not be underestimated: the consequence of our -- both of us having a national pastime called baseball. And I know that's overshadowed in light of the World Cup going on right now. But -- I’m a baseball fan.
But anyway, we have so much in common, Mr. President, that it’s only natural that our interests and our values overlap with one another.
And today the President and I discussed all that he said, and I’m hopeful we’re going to be able to discuss more in our lunch. But with regard to trade, we spoke about trade between our countries. And since the Central American and Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement, it has grown to $11.5 billion. And today the President and I discussed what the next steps are in fully implementing CAFTA-DR, including efforts to provide predictable business environment under the rule of law, as well as to put in place protections for intellectual property, labor and the environment. They're essential elements of that agreement, and very, very important to the United States, and I’m sure to the Dominican Republic.
And these aren’t just the terms of the trade agreement, they're the ingredients for future growth. They are the basis for future growth. Where there is not labor protection, environmental protection and protection of intellectual property in this 21st century, there’s not likely to be growth consistent with capability.
And the other ingredient to growth is education. My wife is a professor and teaches full-time while being Second Lady. And she has an expression. She says that, show me a country that out-educates you, and I will show you a country that out-competes you. And it’s obvious you understand that. That's part of your DNA, Mr. President. Because I applaud you for your robust investment in education, including the constitutional mandate for a minimum share of the budget devoted to education. That is remarkable. That is notable, and we wish you every bit of luck in any way we can be of assistance in that regard. And the Ambassador and I discussed last night ways in which we think we can. But at up to you to decide whether we can be a value-added.
On security, the President and I also spoke about our countries’ shared efforts to protect our citizens from crime. We’re working together to reduce illicit drug trafficking, increasing public safety and security, and to promote social justice, human rights, and the rule of law because security depends on much more than arrest and confiscation of contraband.
As you know, Mr. President, I spent the bulk of my professional life on the security side of this arrangement when I was Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which has control over our criminal justice system. And I know we share a common sense of what need be done, and we’re prepared to be of help.
And to give one small example, you’ve mentioned, Mr. President, that together we’ve now put in place 911 emergency response for Santo Domingo. We see no reason why that cannot be -- if you decide that's what you want -- extend this to the whole country. There is no reason why it has to be limited to Santo Domingo. We’re prepared to work with you to expand the 911 system. And we hope your government is -- shares our view that it should be expanded to your entire country. But that's for you to decide, not for us to decide.
And, Mr. President, on energy, we also spoke about energy. The central issue for the Caribbean economies that are the most dependent in the hemisphere on energy imports that affects the lives of families and drains government budgets. It holds back economies, and people feel it. People feel it.
Later today I’m going to travel to a local solar facility to speak to this issue in greater depth. But we did have a chance to go into some detail on this, and I assume we’ll continue the conversation at lunch.
The President and I also talked about regional issues. And we’ll talk more at lunch about this, at least I will ask to talk more about it, about Venezuela and our mutual interest in bringing greater political inclusion, stability, and protection of basic human rights beyond the issue of energy production and availability.
And with regard to immigration, we discussed immigration downstairs at some length. In my country, we’re working to bring about change for 11 million undocumented women, men, and children, and to bring them out of the shadows of American life and give them the dignity and the -- that they deserve.
We also are aware that it is also in our economic interest to do that. Every independent study shows when we do that, our economy actually grows. Our deficit shrinks. Our security system -- our Social Security system gains additional leverage. And so as I told the President, I personally think that one of the secrets to America’s ability to constantly renew itself is a consistent flow of immigration and integration into our population.
And this is difficult. This is difficult. But we consider it a matter of economic self-interest, as well as a moral imperative. And the Dominican Republic faces its own challenge of improving the conditions of Haitian migrants and descendants who were born here in the Dominican Republic. I congratulated the President on the swift and decisive way and the overwhelming support he received in the legislature, in the Dominican Congress for the passage of a new naturalization law that is a serious piece of business.
And now it’s about implementation. And we’re confident that it will be implemented, and I spent time telling the President how pleased and quite frankly how surprised I was that he was able to act so swiftly in dealing with your Supreme Court decision. And it took a bold step that required bold leadership. And you exercised and showed you have both, Mr. President. And as I said, now implementation will be equally as important.
We had a wide ranging and full discussion reflecting the close ties between our people, and the wide range of issues that connect us. So, Mr. President, I thank you for the discussions we’ve had so far. I look forward to continuing those discussions at lunch. And rest assured, rest assured, we -- the United States, our government values this relationship. We value it very highly. And make no mistake about it. We view you with -- and your country with great respect, and view you as a sovereign nation that is equal in every discussion that takes place between us. And notwithstanding the asymmetries you referred to, it is born out of genuine respect. I look forward to continuing our conversation.
Thank the press for being here. And if there’s any new fundamental breakthroughs, we find out how to establish peace in our time around the world, we’ll come back out and tell you. (Applause.)
2:50 P.M. EDT