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First Americas Competitiveness Exchange Encourages Collaboration, Drives Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Western Hemisphere

Guest Blog Post by Walter Bastian, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for The Western Hemisphere

Competition and collaboration aren’t typically mentioned in the same breath. For nations and businesses competing to innovate and prosper in a global marketplace, these concepts seem completely antithetical to one another.

That’s why the first Americas Competitiveness Exchange on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Exchange) is such a unique and exciting partnership.

As part of the Exchange, senior officials from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration (ITA) and Economic Development Administration (EDA) last week led a delegation of 45 business and government leaders from 20 Latin American and Caribbean countries on a tour across the Southeast United States. They visited five cities in four days with stops in Atlanta, Ga., Greenville, S.C., Conover, Kannapolis, and Charlotte, N.C.

The delegation toured technology centers, innovation hubs, and investment zones to see how U.S. companies are working to create some of the most advanced products in the world. The tour was geared to help make the interpersonal and inter-governmental connections that can lead to future international trade and investment deals.

The Americas Competitiveness Exchange for Innovation and Entrepreneurship provided a great opportunity for decision and policy makers in the Americas to see the results of economic development initiatives and meet high level authorities, leaders of private sector associations, public and private universities with research and innovation centers, looking to explore and expand the links between our economies and key stakeholders.

The United States and Latin America maintain a very special and very important investment relationship. In 2012, the total stock of Latin American foreign direct investment (FDI) in the United States was nearly $96 billion. And every day, 259,000 workers in the United States go to work in U.S. subsidiaries of Latin American firms. 

Markets across Latin America have substantially grown their FDI position in the United States in recent years. For example, Mexico is the largest source of FDI in the United States from Latin America, and the fifteenth largest globally. Uruguay is the fastest growing Latin American economy for FDI in the United States. American exports to Mexico have increased fourfold. More than 50,000 U.S. firms now sell their products and services there. Two-way trade between the U.S. and Mexico now stands at half-a-trillion dollars annually.

All of us can count the benefits of our current investment relationship, and we can already see the additional trade and investment benefits that this first Exchange is bringing to the US and our neighbors in the hemisphere. Through international expansion, foreign firms not only expand their access to new markets, they gain technological know-how and skilled employees that bring innovation to products and processes. For U.S. exporters, these partnerships can help the region as a whole innovative and strengthen economies across the Western Hemisphere. That’s how the region as a whole becomes not only more interconnected, but also a stronger leader in global innovation. We can already count the ways that the Americas Competitiveness Exchange has increased collaboration on innovation and entrepreneurship.

For example, the CEO of a Mexican medical device start up is partnering with the Global Center for Medical Innovation and Clemson’s International Center for Automotive Research (ICAR), and is considering locating to the US to take advantage of the incubator connections these institutions provide. A Guatemalan high-level government official will partner with the city of Greenville, SC, and US companies to help revitalize cities and clean rivers in Guatemala, and also plans to link up the Guatemalan rubber supply chain with Michelin’s North American headquarters in South Carolina. State Ministers from Jamaica, Belize, and the Mexican border region of Matamoros will adapt Georgia Tech’s and the Manufacturing Solutions Center’s incubator and entrepreneurship center models.

The Dean of a University in Honduras is establishing an exchange program with Clemson University’s ICAR. All of the site visits are partners of the U.S. Commerce Department, and because of the Americas Competitiveness Exchange, their linkages to the Western Hemisphere have grown exponentially. This is how we can grow with our partners here in the US, and at the same time help our neighbors and closest trading partners.

This week’s Exchange was the first part of efforts under the Inter-American Competitiveness Network Work Plan for 2014 to deepen the exchange of the more than 100 successful experiences that countries shared in the Signs of Competitiveness in the Americas Reports in 2012 in Colombia and 2013 in Panama. It is also the first innovative entrepreneurship delegation exchange under the US-Mexico High-Level Economic Dialogue.

These leaders from throughout the region saw firsthand how U.S. companies partner with their communities, their universities, and utilize their local assets, to be competitive.  They have begun to make use of our experiences  which are spurring innovation and strengthening their economies. We look forward to further strengthening our partnership with the nations of the Western Hemisphere.

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