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First CEO Summit of the Americas Yields Ideas…But Results?

Opportunities to deepen ties ranging from trade and investments to education and security

The First CEO Summit of the Americas wrapped up on April 14, 2012 with calls for greater cooperation among Western Hemisphere nations on matters ranging from trade and investment to education, science and technology and security, in order to boost prosperity from Canada to Chile.

At the end of the conference, held ahead of the 6th Summit of the Americas, Presidents Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and Barack Obama of the United States participated in a roundtable discussion in front of an audience that included more than 700 top executives from many of the Western Hemisphere’s leading companies.

After praising the economic and social progress achieved by countries such as Brazil and Colombia over the past decade, Obama said there were many fields where countries in this hemisphere could collaborate fruitfully. “We’ve never felt more excited about prospects of working as equal partners with our brothers and sisters in Latin America and the Caribbean,” he added.

Rousseff, whose nation recently overtook the United Kingdom as the world’s sixth biggest economy, also spoke in favor of closer cooperation, but stressed that alliances should be based on equality among allies. She called for greater integration of supply chains among countries in the Americas, most of which have to catch up to Asian and Eastern European countries that are well connected with global production systems. “We need to view this region as an area where you cannot have protectionism,” Rousseff added.

Santos, who called for closer coordination of economic policies to avoid the “export of crises,” proposed that the countries of the Americas should arrive with a common position to the G20 meeting due to be held in Mexico in June to discuss possible joint actions to head off another global recession.

The three heads of state also agreed on the importance of improving education and job training in their countries in order to improve people’s employment prospects. “If we were to ask our people what is their greatest concern, I am sure that the answer would be jobs,” Santos added.

Science and technology research and development was also seen as a fertile ground for collaboration in the Americas. Obama noted Brazil’s leadership in biofuels, adding that both countries should intensify their cooperation on developing clean energies.

The conversation among the American, Brazilian and Colombian presidents capped the two-day event organized by Colombia’s private sector with the endorsement of the Colombian government and technical support from the Inter-American Development Bank. During the CEO summit participants discussed opportunities to speed up economic growth and reduce poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean through public-private partnerships and deeper regional integration.

In his opening speech on Friday, Santos called on the private sector to contribute to inclusive economic growth. “Without business people prosperity will not come to the peoples of this continent,” Santos said. “But business also has a tremendous responsibility. You must do everything possible to improve social conditions. Fighting poverty is a great business proposition for everyone.”

In his presentation for the CEO summit, IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno said that the Americas could double the value of their commerce within a decade if governments and the private sector undertake key investments. “This would have a tremendous impact on job creation,” Moreno said, “especially for the millions of young people who enter the job force each year.”’

Moreno called on companies and governments to ensure that benefits of digital connectivity not only benefit wealthy consumers in large cities, but that they also push out into isolated rural areas and down into the base of the income pyramid. “We need to bet on the future, and take infrastructure, products and services not only to the growing urban middle class, but also to isolated populations, to families that aspire to greater social mobility,” Moreno said.

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Moreno announced two new IDB initiatives that seek to leverage greater connectivity among public and private sectors to help solve two important development challenges: youth unemployment and access to finance.

The IDB and the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) are teaming up with the International Youth Foundation and the region’s biggest employers, including Walmart and McDonald’s operator Arcos Dorados, to launch an alliance to train as many as 1 million youth for their first jobs over the next decade. They also announced the provision of up to $55 million in financing for institutions to develop new lending models to improve access to credit for women entrepreneurs in the region.

Throughout the CEO summit heads of state and distinguished cultural, diplomatic and business figures shared their vision for accelerating connectivity and development across the hemisphere.

The president of Mexico, Felipe Calderón, urged Latin American countries to advance free trade agreements, eliminate trade barriers and embrace open markets. “Trade is one of the key factors for progress,” he said, “and humanity has known for a thousand years that trade generates benefits for all.”

Colombian singer Shakira exhorted the business community to deepen its commitment to corporate social responsibility. “It would be fantastic to see the business leaders of Latin America embrace philanthropic capitalism in the way that executives in other countries have, for example Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, who asks multimillionaires to promise that they will pledge half of their fortunes to help the poor,” she said.

Shakira, who started her own educational foundation as a teenager, added that she is waiting to see a Latin American version of philanthropic capitalism, and that she would like to see business people in the region “encourage each other and compete to see who writes the biggest checks.”

On the eve of the CEO summit, the IDB and Shakira’s ALAS Foundation presented their joint awards for excellence in early childhood development. During the ceremony, the artist invited Moreno and leading business people to join a “movement for early childhood” to promote programs to serve children from birth to the time they enter school, prioritizing investments for the 35 million children in the region who currently lack access to adequate nutrition, health care and education services.

 

 

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