US Summit of the Americas' Goals Outlined
OAS representative says hemisphere has ''shared interests''
WASHINGTON, DC - 12/16/03 - The Special Summit of the Americas, scheduled to take place January 12-13 in Monterrey, Mexico, will focus on the themes of economic growth, social development and democratic governance in the Western Hemisphere, says John Maisto, US Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States (OAS).?
At a December 15 seminar at the Department of State in Washington, Maisto said that the special summit will provide the hemisphere's 34 democratically-elected leaders an opportunity to discuss concerns in the region over withering democracy and frustration with the results of economic reforms.
Maisto indicated that the special summit would also provide a forum to take stock of efforts to implement the agenda agreed to at the 2001 Summit of the Americas in Quebec, Canada, but added that the focus of the summit would be on "specific areas that go to the heart of what is bothering the countries in the hemisphere."
He said that the hemisphere's shared interest in advancing an economic growth agenda will focus, in part, on creating jobs by fostering small and medium-sized businesses.
Maisto noted that approximately 80% of economic activity in Latin America and the Caribbean is carried out by micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises.
These enterprises, he added, also employ upwards of 57% of the region's workforce.
Despite the importance of these businesses, Maisto said, the World Bank has found that starting a business in the region takes longer than in any other region in the world. To remedy this, one of the objectives of the special summit will be to achieve a commitment to "reduce substantially the amount of time it takes to start a new business," he observed.
Since surveys indicate that the lack of access to credit is the largest single obstacle to starting or expanding businesses in the region, another focus in Monterrey, Maisto said, will be to get a commitment from hemispheric leaders to ensure lines of credit to small and medium-sized enterprises. Much of this effort, he added, will require collaboration with international financial institutions.
The development of effective property-rights systems in the Americas will also be an important economic theme at the special summit, Maisto indicated.
Citing the ideas of Peruvian author Hernando De Soto, he said: "There is a need for property to become collateral so that people can have access to credit." He said leaders in Monterrey will look for commitments to do what has to be done in this area.
Reducing the cost of remitting money to the region will be another issue on the economic agenda at the special summit, Maisto said. He pointed out that $32 billion is remitted in the hemisphere each year, at an average transaction cost of 12.5% of the remittance.
Under the Partnership for Prosperity initiative launched in 2001, the US and Mexico have reduced by 50 percent the cost of remitting money from the US to Mexico, Maisto noted. He said that the US believes a similar savings can be achieved for the rest of the hemisphere.
Social development, or "investing in people," is to be the second theme of the special summit, Maisto explained. He said that education and health care are the two items on the agenda in this area.
On the subject of education, Maisto said he hopes leaders at the special summit will agree to introduce accountability into hemispheric education systems and commit to establishing report cards for education systems.
In the area of health care, he said leaders will look for a commitment to provide anti-retroviral treatment to as many HIV-infected persons as can benefit from it. He noted that the Pan-American Health Organization estimates that would number at least 600,000 people. The idea, he said, "is to get treatment out there to those who need it."
The third theme of the special summit will be democratic governance. In this area, Maisto noted that the World Bank has identified corruption as the "single greatest obstacle to economic and social development in the world."
Maisto added that the World Bank calculates that corruption can deprive nations of approximately 1% of GDP (gross domestic product) growth each year; moreover, he said, corruption has consistently been shown to be a major barrier to greater investment.
He noted that polls show that 80% of Latin Americans in 2002 cited corruption as a significant problem, while only 25% expressed confidence in their governments' willingness or ability to address the problem.
Maisto said he hopes leaders at the special summit will commit themselves to enhancing transparency and curbing corruption.
"The notion is a commitment to transparency," he said. "The notion is the commitment of leaders to do what they have to do in order to modernize, reform, and break through the obfuscation that exists in democratic governments throughout the hemisphere."
Maitso indicated that this effort will require calling for "a very high bar," a level of commitment akin to previous commitments made to democracy in the region.
Each of the objectives of the special summit, Maisto said, is "measurable, achievable and not meant to be everything for everybody." The purpose of the special summit, he reiterated, "is to focus on those areas that we all know are the root causes of much concern in the hemisphere."
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