Office of the United States Trade Representative


USTR Zoellick Statement at Signing of U.S.-D.R.-Central America FTA

Indian Treaty Room, Washington, D.C.

It is my honor and privilege to be here this morning with my friends, Minister Sonia Guzman and Ambassador Carolina Mejia of the Dominican Republic.

Today, we are taking the historic step of freeing trade between the Dominican Republic and the United States -- as an integral part of the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

I am delighted that we have been joined by Secretary General-elect Rodriguez of the Organization of American States and my ministerial colleagues from Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua, as well as the representatives of El Salvador and Guatemala. Their participation punctuates that the importance of this FTA extends beyond our two countries, indeed even beyond Central America – to all the Americas.

It is fitting that we are in the room where the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed almost exactly 60 years ago, setting the stage for successive waves of economic cooperation and trade liberalization that have reshaped our world.

The same spirit that inspired the visionaries who conceived the Bretton Woods Agreements guides our actions here today.

President Bush set us on the course by calling for a free trade agreement between the United States and Central America, declaring that free markets, development, opportunity, and hope are the best weapons against poverty, disease, and tyranny.

The addition of the Dominican Republic, the largest economy in the Caribbean, to this free trade agreement will add to its constructive power and promise for all our peoples.

For the United States and the Dominican Republic, the signing of this free trade agreement opens a new chapter in the history of our relationship.

In the past, the promise of democratic hopes could not be realized, economies faltered, even blood was shed, and the poor, hardworking citizens of the Dominican Republic lost chance after chance to better their lives with freedom. Because of that sad past, hundreds of thousands of Dominicans left their homeland for the United States, where they enriched our society.

Today, the Dominican Republic is breaking that cycle with free elections and a peaceful transfer of democratic power, even in the face of major economic challenges. By joining together in CAFTA, the United States and the Dominican Republic can strengthen our ties while building the foundation for the Dominican economy to thrive, helping democracy to take deeper root.

This free trade agreement between the United States and the Dominican Republic will help to create new economic opportunity. It will eliminate tariffs, open markets, promote transparency, and establish state-of-the-art rules for 21st-Century commerce.

At a time of turmoil for the Dominican Republic’s close neighbor, Haiti, this agreement will also bring a sorely needed economic boost to the island of Hispaniola (HISS pan yo la).

We were careful to shape the agreement to keep our existing preference program intact and offer inspiration to countries in the region aspiring to economic growth led by trade.

And we will work closely with Congress to ensure that the integration of the Haitian and Dominican textile industries can continue to thrive through the Caribbean Basin Trade Preference Act and contribute to an integrated and competitive regional market in which American workers and businesses can benefit, too.

This agreement will bring economic gains to the United States, for the Dominican Republic and the other nations of CAFTA represent very big markets.

With today’s addition of the Dominican Republic, CAFTA will become the second-largest U.S. export market in Latin America, behind only Mexico, buying more than $15 billion in U.S. exports. That exceeds U.S. exports to Russia, India, and Indonesia combined. The two-way trade amounts to some $32 billion.

This agreement will strengthen the special economic ties between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico as well. The two already have the largest bilateral trading relationship in the Caribbean, accounting for almost $1.3 billion in two-way commerce.

When Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and Central America were outposts of the Spanish Empire in the 18th Century, Iberian monarchs conspired to keep control of the region by outlawing trade among the empire’s colonies. By the time Spain removed the trade barriers in 1774, after realizing that stifling economic growth would only inspire revolution, it was too late for that empire to endure.

The agreement we sign today, lowering trade barriers and fostering trade among all CAFTA’s democracies, is crafted to unleash the very forces of economic dynamism that a mistaken monarchy tried to restrain.

I want to add a special note about this effort: The fact that the Dominican Republic is joining CAFTA is a credit to President Mejia's leadership. When we began the CAFTA negotiations, the United States and the Dominican Republic still had to lay the groundwork for an FTA.

Through a commitment to work together, we were able to get past problems and on to progress.

When I was in the Dominican Republic in January, I saw signs of how confidence is growing and the birth of new aspirations. In the Port of Caucedo, the American company CSX has built a world-class cargo facility, with room to expand. That cargo port matches the Dominican Republic’s potential to grow as a consumer, an exporter, and as a transshipment point at a key location in international shipping lanes. This agreement encourages that optimism.

So this agreement offers more than free trade. It offers new hope for easing poverty, fostering development, and strengthening democracy. It is about strengthening the rule of law and improving transparency to counter corruption. It is about creating a favorable climate for foreign investment. It is about respect for the homelands of many immigrants to the United States. And it is also about improving working conditions and protecting the environment in the Dominican Republic.

In the United States, we are here today only because the U.S. Congress passed Trade Promotion Authority in 2002, and because so many members of the Senate and the House have offered us unflinching support. I especially want to thank three key Representatives -- Kevin Brady, Charlie Rangel, and Jerry Weller. They have provided important leadership and inspiration for the conclusion of this new agreement with the Dominican Republic. I look to them to help us bring this FTA to fruition.

The work of negotiating this historic agreement could not have come this far without the support of important business and farm leaders in both our nations. I know many of them are in the audience, and thank you for your support.

Perhaps most of all, I want to recognize the very hardworking professionals from USTR and the many other U.S. government departments that helped prepare this agreement. There are dozens of people from across our government who worked on this FTA, and while I cannot thank all of you by name, I am deeply grateful for your dedication, your spirit, and your service.

One person at USTR does merit special recognition. Our chief negotiator, Regina Vargo, is a zealous and skilled advocate of openness and trade who has spent her career turning a grand vision for the hemisphere into a practical reality. Regina was part of the team that negotiated NAFTA, and she led the FTA negotiations with Chile, Central America, and the Dominican Republic. Regina is now deep into negotiations with Panama and the Andean nations. I am most appreciative of her leadership and commitment.

I also want to thank Peter Allgeier and our Chief Agriculture Negotiator, Allen Johnson, two of the USTR deputies, who worked tirelessly to achieve win-win results on some of the toughest issues. One could not ask for better partners and leaders.

But even as we celebrate this accomplishment and thank those who made it possible, today is  just the beginning of our next challenge together. In Washington, Santo Domingo, and the capitals of our other CAFTA partners, we must now turn our attention to winning approval of the agreement from our respective legislatures.

In the United States, free trade foes resist through cavils, caveats, and conditions. We hear that the Dominican Republic isn’t ready, that the country needs higher labor standards and tighter environmental standards.

Opponents of free trade offer a false choice. The way to improve labor and environmental standards is through open trade, leading to more work and greater prosperity. I have traveled  around the world too many times to keep count. Wherever I go, one fact remains the same: Free and democratic peoples in open-trading, prosperous societies choose higher standards for themselves. Dominicans are already doing the same.

So I cannot give you my thanks without also asking for your help one more time. Businesses and their workers can tell a very powerful story of trade. Dominicans in the United States can explain the benefits of drawing our nations more closely together, cementing the ties that grow with links of business, investment, and every remittance sent home.

Throughout our histories, the Dominican Republic and the United States have been neighbors in this hemisphere, with borders separated only by a few hundred miles of water. Yet it has often seemed as if we lived oceans apart, separated by differing histories and walls of economic inequality. Today, with a signature and a handshake, we are tearing down those walls. We are bridging the distance that separates us. We are linking our histories.

Together we will set an example for the rest of the world of what a large, developed democracy and a smaller, developing democracy can accomplish together.

Today, the Dominican Republic joins five other nations that have already signed a free trade agreement with their neighbor to the North. Together, we will reduce poverty and create opportunity and hope. We will bind our nations more closely together, traveling together as friends and partners on the economic path that leads to better lives for all our peoples.

Thank you.

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