Mexico City, Mexico - Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, unveiled his initiative for increasing economic engagement in the Western Hemisphere during a keynote address in Mexico City.

Hosted by the Americas Society and the Council of the Americas, Menendez outlined a plan of action to establish a more comprehensive strategy for partnering with the region in his speech, titled: "Beyond Free Trade: Spurring Growth in the Western Hemisphere."

"We must seize this moment and together embark upon a long-term plan for combined economic growth that allows for all of our citizens to share in the prosperity of an expanding hemispheric economy," said Menendez. "We must look beyond free trade agreements and define new policies that will permit us to partner with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to build a foundation for robust economic integration making the Western Hemisphere an economic powerhouse in the 21st century."

Menendez noted that while free trade is essential, these agreements alone will not create opportunities for increased prosperity in our hemisphere. Instead, we must develop a bold economic statecraft strategy that will expand the middle class throughout the region making the Western Hemisphere the dominant trade bloc of this century.

Components of a more deliberate, active economic regional engagement include:

Establish High-Level Leadershipand Coordination

  • Establish a special advisor in the White House to raise the profile of U.S. economic statecraft efforts. This high ranking official should be empowered to identify strategic priorities, shape export policies, set high-level goals and budgets for our trade promotion agencies.
  • Provide needed funding and allow U.S. institutions to have the ability to commit equity, actually invest in projects, and share rewards when these projects are successful.
  • Reverse cuts to U.S. Agency for International Development projects in the Western Hemisphere and refine our development assistance to better support the markets, infrastructure and rule of law necessary for companies to flourish.
  • Engage with and provide the necessary resources to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the North American Development Bank to partner in this ambitious initiative.
  • Increase resources for the Department of Commerce's Foreign Commercial Service so that other countries in the region benefit from the same level of expertise and support that is offered by the Foreign Commercial Service in Mexico City, for example. This requires improving coordination amongst our export supporting government agencies, to include TDA, OPIC, EXIM, Commerce, State and others to promote and support American commerce abroad.
  • We must increase funding levels for the State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs and related bureaus, and put in place accountability measures to guarantee our embassy personnel are measured appropriately and rewarded for their trade promotion and investment successes.
  • Finally, Congress must do its part and Chairman Menendez will introduce a package of legislative proposals later this year that provides new authorizations and calls for appropriations to create the new framework for U.S. companies to compete in Latin America.

Promote Brand USA

  • The U.S. must effectively communicate to its economic partners the well-deserved reputation of American companies for high quality, reliability, value, and cutting-edge technology, as well as the U.S. government's commitment to provide technical assistance and work force training.
  • We must level the playing field and have the U.S. government serve as a partner for companies to help invest in projects, reduce their risks, and support their efforts

Provide Targeted Equity Investment and Increase Export Finance Funding

  • To help U.S. companies remain competitive globally, the U.S. government must match the types of financing provided by its economic competitors for strategically important projects.

Embrace Infrastructure Projects

  • The U.S. has some of the world's best engineering and construction firms, the best logical know how and an unparalleled energy industry. We must work with our partners to develop world-class infrastructure projects.
  • The U.S. government must partner with U.S. firms to invest in their projects, mitigate project risk, and help them embrace projects where they not only build, but also maintain and operate large-scale infrastructure. While this business model is not often utilized in the U.S., it is the dominant model for large projects in many Latin American and Caribbean countries.