Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.
Guest blog post by Michael C. Camuñez, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Market Access and Compliance, International Trade Administration
As Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Market Access & Compliance, I have the great privilege of working each day to advance the President’s trade policy agenda to grow U.S. exports and help American industry compete in foreign markets under the President’s National Export Initiative. In a world where 95 percent of consumers and 80-90 percent of world GDP growth will exist in coming years outside of the United States, our work to grow U.S. exports has never been more important. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to work with my talented colleagues at Commerce and throughout the government on efforts to keep the United States globally competitive and to help to increase our access to these dynamic and emerging global markets.
I am a fourth-generation American, born and raised in southern New Mexico, not far from the U.S.-Mexico border. I am the descendant of Mexican farmers and ranchers, who settled in northern Mexico and what is today the States of New Mexico and Texas. My family left New Mexico for sunny California just as I entered high school. I spent my high school years in California’s San Joaquin Valley, one of our nation’s most productive agricultural regions.
I was the first in my family to attend college and was lucky enough to earn a spot at Harvard College. While at Harvard, I became deeply involved in organizing and running community service programs aimed at working with at-risk populations. That led to an opportunity following college to help advocate for the creation of a nation-wide system of national service—like a domestic Peace Corps. In fact, my first political job was in the Clinton Administration, where I was an integral part of the team that established the AmeriCorps program.
After a short stint in Mexico working as a volunteer in an orphanage, I returned to graduate school at Stanford Law School. I spent over a decade as a lawyer and partner at a global law firm in Los Angeles, where I handled a number of international matters, including in Latin America, before returning to Washington to work on President-elect Obama’s Presidential Transition Team. I spent two years in the White House as a Special Assistant and Special Counsel to the President before being nominated and confirmed as Assistant Secretary of Commerce.
For me, Hispanic Heritage Month is important because it serves as an important reminder of the strength that our country derives from its diversity. Often when we talk about diversity, we tend to focus on the cultural and social benefits associated with it—and there are many. But I think it’s also important to recognize that our diversity is also an important driver of innovation, opportunity and economic growth.
Indeed, as the world becomes “flatter,” more interconnected, and more interdependent, our diversity truly gives us a competitive advantage that will lead to stronger growth and prosperity for all of us. And Latinos will play an important part in driving that growth.
That’s why, for example, I have spent so much time working to deepen our trade relationship with Mexico, our neighbor and critical ally to the South, by launching a Border Export Strategy. We have a half-trillion dollar trade relationship with Mexico, where we export more than we do to Brazil, Russia, India and China combined. And this trade supports nearly six million American jobs. And of course this says nothing of our growing trade with the rest of Central and South America, whose booming markets will bring important economic benefits to the United States as well.
I’ve traveled across America talking to the business community, including many Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, who recognize what an incredible asset our Latino consumer and business communities represent in terms of increased commercial ties with Central and South America. Of course, Hispanic Americans are making substantial economic and other contributions every day in our economy that have nothing to do with Latin America or foreign trade. And the Latino community will continue to drive growth in other important markets, too, like in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.
The important thing is that our dynamic and growing Hispanic community is a bona fide asset that enriches America not just culturally, but literally. We are helping to make America a country that is built to last. Hispanic Heritage Month gives us an important occasion to reflect on that reality, and the opportunities before us.