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Blog Entries from 2013

Acting Secretary Blank Highlights Success of the U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement

De. Blank seated at speakers' table at AmCham Panama

Exports are critical to supporting American jobs and helping U.S. businesses grow.  Increasing international trade is one of the Commerce Department’s top priorities.  U.S. Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank wraps up her week-long Latin American trade mission in Panama this week which highlighted the importance of the bilateral trade relationship between the two countries. In her remarks before the American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) Panama today, Acting Secretary Blank marked the success of the U.S. Panama Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA), which went into effect on October 31, 2012 and is a key component to increasing bilateral trade between the two countries.

Panama’s economy has seen double-digit growth over the past two years and continues to be a critical market for U.S. exporters. Between 2011 and 2012, the total volume of trade between the United States and Panama grew by 21 percent, reaching a total of $10.5 billion. With the implementation of the TPA, more than 87 percent of U.S. exports of consumer and industrial exports immediately became duty-free. Prior to the TPA implementation, Panama’s average tariff rate on U.S. industrial goods was higher than seven percent, with some tariffs reaching 81 percent.

Panama Canal Expansion Offers Opportunity for U.S. Companies to Serve as Partners with Panama

Dr. Blank seated at control panel of Panama Canal

As a part of her trade mission to Brazil, Colombia, and Panama this week, Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank met today with Jorge Quijano, Panama Canal Administrator, and Roberto Roy, President of the Panama Canal Board and the Panama City Subway, to discuss the Panama Canal Expansion Project and infrastructure spending related to Panama City’s Metro Rail Project. These meetings aim to strengthen longstanding U.S.-Panama ties by promoting greater cooperation between the two countries on infrastructure development.

Panama is a longstanding friend and ally to the United States, and the country’s strategic location as a major shipping route makes it an important economic partner as well. The Panama Canal currently handles five percent of the world’s trade, and approximately two-thirds of the Canal’s annual transits are bound to or from ports in the United States.

In order to allow greater container capacity, the Panama Canal Authority has decided to invest over $5 billion to expand the Canal. The expanded Canal will accommodate larger vessels that cannot transit now, introducing a new line of business that Panama projects will gradually increase annual profits to $3 billion. 

Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank Visits Consular Section in Colombia to Promote Travel and Tourism

On the heels of Travel and Tourism Week, Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank visited the Consular Section at the U.S. Embassy in Colombia today as part of the trade mission she is leading this week to Brazil, Colombia, and Panama.

Currently, the U.S. consular section in Colombia is the sixth busiest worldwide by volume of visa applicants. So far this year, the record for one day processing was 3,001 applicants—the highest in the world for that day. On average, the Consular Section at the U.S. Embassy in Colombia receives 2,300 applicants a day for travelers visiting the United States for tourism, work, or education purposes.

The Acting Secretary’s visit directly supports the Obama Administration’s commitment to promoting travel to, and tourism within, the United States. Travel and tourism, which represents the United States’ number one service export, is a crucial stimulator for the American economy. In March 2013, spending by international visitors to the United States totaled more than $14.4 billion, an increase of nearly 3 percent when compared to last year.

Acting Secretary Blank Supports U.S. Companies’ Corporate Social Responsibility Efforts Abroad

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Acting Secretary Blank Supports U.S. Companies’ Corporate Social Responsibility Efforts Abroad

Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank visited Bogotá, Colombia, today, to see how a U.S.-based company is helping to promote corporate social responsibility in a country where it does business.

In 2007, the world’s largest software company Microsoft joined forces with the nonprofit Trust for the Americas, the nonprofit Centro Laudes Infantis and the local government to create “Mi Llave,” a program designed specifically to increase computer literacy.  The centers, including one that Acting Secretary Blank visited, provide economic and social opportunities to youth and vulnerable populations through access to technology, technical and vocational skills training, and more. Since its inception, 15 additional centers have opened across the country.

Acting Secretary Blank toured the facility and heard first hand testimonials from individuals who have benefitted from the services the centers provide.  More than 13,000 people have been trained, and more than 270,000 people have received access to computers and the Internet since training began at Mi Llave centers.

Autodesk Promotes Increasing Infrastructure Investment and Use of Technology During Latin America Trade Mission

Photo of Amar Hanspal

Autodesk Promotes Increasing Infrastructure Investment and Use of Technology During Latin America Trade Mission

Guest Blog Post by Amar Hanspal, Senior Vice President of Information Modeling products, Autodesk Inc.

Ed note: Autodesk is a $2 billion design and engineering firm with tens of millions of customers around the world. Autodesk’s portfolio of software empowers organizations of all sizes, creative visionaries, students and consumers to conceptualize, analyze, simulate and communicate their ideas and make them real. Autodesk’s software has been used to create the world’s most compelling media and entertainment, including the last 18 Academy-award winning films, and solve the most complex global design, engineering and sustainability challenges.

Autodesk is honored to be a part of this trade mission to Latin America.  As a company, we are committed to helping this region build, or rebuild, its critical infrastructure. This mission affords us an opportunity to meet with government and private sector leaders and develop long-term, strategic relationships with the Embassies and U.S. Foreign Commercial Service representatives. We are proud of the early progress already made in just a couple days of meetings.  Working together we have been able to identify near and long-term opportunities and connect with key leaders and decision makers to drive critical, infrastructure-related discussions forward. 

So, why is Autodesk involved?

Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank Commemorates the Anniversary of the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement

One of the Commerce Department’s top priorities is to strengthen the economic ties between the United States and our trading partners. One year ago today, the ties between the United States and Colombia became much stronger with the implementation of the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, which Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank marked during her remarks today at a luncheon hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce and the Counsel of American Companies (CEA) in Bogotá, Colombia. 

Prior to the implementation of the Trade Promotion Agreement, also known as the U.S.-Colombia FTA, the average tariff rate on U.S. industrial exports to Colombia was higher than 10 percent. The agreement immediately eliminated tariffs on more than 80 percent of U.S. consumer and industrial exports to Colombia when it took effect last year, with the remaining tariffs being phased out within 10 years. This makes it easier for U.S. firms to export to Colombia. In fact, from June 2012 through March 2013, U.S. goods exported to Colombia have increased 19 percent compared to the same period in the year before. In 2012, U.S. goods exports to Colombia reached $16.4 billion and made up nearly a quarter of all Colombia’s imports of goods. 

Colombian firms have also benefited from the Trade Promotion Agreement, which experts estimate could create hundreds of thousands of Colombian jobs over the next few years. Under this agreement, more than 600 Colombian companies have started exporting to the United States for the first time, and Colombia continues to experience a trade surplus with the United States, its largest trading partner. 

Due in part to the Trade Promotion Agreement, U.S. businesses are increasingly interested in exploring trade with Colombia. The 20 firms accompanying Acting Secretary Blank on her trade mission this week represent just a snapshot of the U.S. business community that is looking for new opportunities to invest in Colombia. 

The U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement is one tool helping the United States work toward the goals of President Obama’s National Export Initiative, a government-wide strategy to promote American exports and support an additional 2 million export-related jobs by the end of 2014. By working together, the United States and Colombia have successfully fostered economic growth and strengthened the relationship between both countries. The Commerce Department is committed to further strengthening this relationship by encouraging increased trade and creating more economic development opportunities for businesses in both countries. 

For more information about the U.S.-Colombia FTA, visit http://www.trade.gov/press/press-releases/2013/colombia-factsheet-051513.pdf

Greeley and Hansen Plans to Increase Infrastructure Export Opportunities in Latin America

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Guest post by John C. Robak, Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer, Greeley and Hansen

ED Note: Greeley and Hansen is a global leader in developing innovative engineering, architecture, and management solutions for a wide array of complex water, wastewater, and water-related infrastructure challenges. The firm has built upon nearly 100 years of proven civil and environmental engineering experience in all phases of project development and implementation to become a premier provider of comprehensive services in the water and wastewater sectors.

I’m honored to represent Greeley and Hansen on this trade mission with Acting Secretary of Commerce Dr. Rebecca Blank to promote U.S. exports related to infrastructure in Latin America.  While Greeley and Hansen has previously completed water infrastructure projects throughout the region, we’re looking at these high-growth areas as key markets for additional expansion of our business.  Steve Knode, Deputy Senior Commercial Officer, and his team have done an outstanding job in bringing together world-class U.S. companies for this mission.  Specifically for our firm, the local Commercial Officers have arranged meetings with many leading organizations to help connect our firm with high-level government officials and business leaders in our areas of interest. 

I’ve participated in two previous Department of Commerce trade missions, including a mission to southern Africa last November, led by Under Secretary of Commerce Francisco Sánchez, which provided many valuable business contacts in South Africa and Zambia.  To date, Greeley and Hansen has made several follow-up trips to Africa to meet with these contacts to further discuss specific potential business opportunities for our firm.  We also are planning a follow-up visit to Egypt after a recent trade mission there.  I’m certain that this mission to Latin America will be equally successful for establishing beneficial business leads.

Already, this mission has allowed us to make several key connections.  For example, I’ve met with senior municipal utility leaders at SABESP, the Brazilian waste management company owned by São Paulo state; along with other civil engineering firms in Brazil.  Prior to the one-on-one meetings, the delegation has had several briefings led by Brian Brisson, Minister Counselor for Commercial Affairs (Brazil), Nathan Younge, Regional Director, Latin America for USTDA, along with an informative presentation from Brian O’Hanlon of OPIC.  Further, the networking opportunities with Dr. Blank (who has been very accessible to the delegates for comments and questions) and Embassy and Commercial Services staff have provided invaluable information about the range of potential opportunities and barriers for any U.S. firm interested in doing business in the region.

In talking with these experts directly, I’ve been able to better assess the market for our services relative to the country’s planned development of water infrastructure.  It’s clear that Brazil offers tremendous opportunities for U.S. businesses looking to expand internationally, and, as was stated during the briefings, it’s hard to think of a global company of the future that will not have a presence in Brazil.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the trip in Colombia and visiting Panama, as these other growing Latin American economies also represent tremendous potential export opportunities for U.S. companies directly involved in infrastructure.  I’m confident that, for Greeley and Hansen, this Department of Commerce trade mission to Brazil, Colombia, and Panama will be fruitful for us and all involved.

Aviation Partnership Reaping Benefits for America and Brazil

Aviation Partnership Reaping Benefits for America and Brazil

Guest blog post by Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank

Yesterday, as part of my infrastructure business development trade mission to Brazil, Assistant Secretary Susan Kurland of the U.S. Department of Transportation and I took a tour of the facilities at Embraer -- a Brazilian aircraft manufacturer. Embraer is one example of a Brazilian company making substantial investments in the United States, and employs more than 1,000 U.S. workers to support its U.S. operations in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida; Melbourne, Florida; Jacksonville, Florida; Nashville, Tennessee; Mesa, Arizona; and Windsor Locks, Connecticut. At the Commerce Department, one of the core components of our mission is to increase foreign investment in the United States, and Embraer continues to realize the benefits of choosing the U.S. as a place to do business. It was gratifying to hear from Embraer’s senior leadership about their plans for further investments in America, because of the United States’ strong aviation industry.

As we toured the 190 Model Airplane with the company's CEO, Frederico Fleury Curado, I was impressed by the quality and innovation in Embraer's product. And, like many companies doing business with and in the United States, Embraer continues to develop strategic partnerships with U.S. companies that create jobs and advance new technologies. In fact, Embraer imports more than $2 billion in U.S. aircraft components into Brazil each year to support its operations.  Embraer has built partnerships with American suppliers  like Rockwell Collins and GE, as well as, companies like Rolls Royce and BAE, which have major manufacturing facilities in the U.S.  These companies export from the U.S. to Embraer facilities in Brazil.  These cross border supply chains demonstrate the ways in which the private sector is deepening commercial ties between our two nations.

Connecting U.S. companies with opportunities in Latin America is what this trade mission is all about. The 20 U.S. firms that are joining me on this infrastructure business development trade mission to Brazil, Colombia and Panama offer a broad range of products and services that enable them to serve as partners on the ambitious infrastructure modernization projects that all three countries are undertaking. Strengthening the connections between the U.S. private sector and Latin America is a win-win for all parties, and I look forward to the continued progress that will be realized as a result of our trip this week.

Acting Secretary Blank Meets with Brazilian CEOs, Promotes SelectUSA Investment Summit

Acting Secretary Rebecca Blank is joined by Josué Gomes Da Silva, Chairman and CEO, Coteminas and Marcelo Bahia Odebrecht, President of Construtora Norberto Odebrecht S.A. at a Roundtable with Brazilian CEOs

Yesterday, Acting Secretary Blank met with a group of Brazilian CEOs to hear their priorities for doing business with the U.S. and to propose possible areas for close collaboration with American businesses. One area in which U.S. and Brazilian firms can work together is on infrastructure development, which is one reason why Acting Secretary Blank is currently leading a trade mission of 20 U.S. firms in a wide range of infrastructure industry sectors to Brazil, Colombia and Panama. These companies offer everything from cutting-edge technologies to top-notch services in engineering, management consulting, and more -- and they are well equipped to help Brazil meet its robust goals for infrastructure improvements.

Acting Secretary Blank emphasized the importance of a strong bilateral investment relationship -- many global manufacturers, including some in Brazil, are now looking to return manufacturing operations to the U.S., to expand operations here, or to invest in the U.S. for the first time. That´s because there are a host of factors that make America a very attractive place to do business: low domestic energy costs and a stable supply of energy, high labor productivity, strong research institutions that can serve as partners in developing new products, intellectual property protections, and a stable business investment environment.

Infrastructure Business Development Trade Mission to Brazil, Colombia and Panama Begins Today

This week, Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank will lead an infrastructure business development trade mission to Brazil, Colombia, and Panama, countries that have created robust infrastructure development plans for the coming years. This mission directly supports President Obama’s National Export Initiative, which set the goal of doubling U.S. exports by the end of 2014 and creating an additional 2 million jobs supported by exports. Throughout the course of the mission, 20 U.S. firms will join the Acting Secretary, with the goal of expanding their business opportunities in Brazil, Colombia, and Panama.

Today is the first full day of the trade mission and Acting Secretary Blank will participate in a roundtable with Brazilian CEOs to discuss possible areas for collaboration with U.S. businesses, particularly in the area of infrastructure. This discussion serves as a follow-up to the U.S.-Brazil CEO Forum, which Acting Secretary Blank co-chaired along with Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs Michael Froman in Brasilia in March.

On Tuesday, Acting Secretary Blank will meet with members of the Federation of Industries of Sao Paulo (FIESP), a Brazilian industry association that includes more than 130,000 companies representing a wide range of industrial activities. The Acting Secretary will highlight U.S. businesses’ efforts to support Brazil’s infrastructure development goals and connect U.S. and Brazilian firms to explore further procurement opportunities. She will also visit Embraer while in Sao Paulo, to highlight a Brazilian company that has invested in America and created U.S. jobs. Embraer has also worked with many suppliers in the U.S. and has strong partnerships with a variety of U.S. companies.