U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green's Remarks at the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America

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For Immediate Release

Monday, October 15, 2018
Office of Press Relations
Telephone: +1.202.712.4320 | Email: press@usaid.gov

U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C.
October 15, 2018

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: I really am honored to be here; I know we've had a long day, but I appreciate this chance to offer these thoughts. I am delighted that Secretaries Pompeo and Nielsen, as well as Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray co-hosted this conference. And of course, the representation from the administrations of the Northern Triangle countries. These countries -- these contributions and leadership, symbolize the level of commitment that we'll all need if we're going to be successful in achieving sustainable progress. Finally, I want to thank my friends at the OFC and the IDB not only for their participation in this conference, but also for their support for USAID and the new approach that we are bringing to our work in Central America.

And I must say, the Ambassador, García-López, when I first met him in Mexico City late last year. Ever since then, we have been in touch and exploring ways that we can not only work bilaterally, but work trilaterally, to help advance the cause of prosperity throughout the region. Under President Trump, we believe that the purpose of all of our foreign assistance must be ending its need to exist. We say that not because we want to walk away from our friends, but precisely the opposite. We say that because we believe in all our friends. We believe in each country and each community's desire to meet its own brighter future. So, we believe that if our friends are willing to take on tough challenges that are necessary for a journey first to self-reliance and then to prosperity, well, we should walk with them along the way.

To be ready with assistance, we will be ready to help with potential policy reforms. And since every country sees an enterprise-driven future, we'll also make sure that we pursue and embrace opportunities for co-creation, and co-investment with both private enterprise and civil society. As part of our new approach in the region, we pulled together objective third-party measures with the brightest minds that we can find in development and economics to help us better understand where each country is in its journey to self-reliance and prosperity. Country by country, we've tried to create road maps to help guide our planning and our consultations with our friends, with key institutions like the IDB. And we look to develop ways to tackle barriers to prosperity in our neighborhood.

In the Northern Triangle, our approach fits well within the U.S. strategy for Central America, but just as importantly. It's closely aligned with your government's alliance to prosperity. Moving forward, our road maps confirm that infrastructure -- energy in particular -- is a key constraint in the journey to prosperity. Earlier today, I know that you had very productive discussions on the advancement to growth and integration of energy markets. As I hope you've heard, USAID is a champion of the Regional Clean Energy initiative. For example, just last year, we supported an auction of 170 megawatts of renewable energy to help El Salvador achieve its lowest-ever solar energy crisis. We view this as merely a down payment on the work that all of us here can do together. We hope to co-design and co-finance new energy initiatives with the IDB and with private enterprise, and we believe that some of the technical support that we can help offer will shorten the time from planning to market.

Our road maps point to another significant weakness in the enabling environment in many parts of the region. Gaps in ICT, in internet and communications technology, in the infrastructure, and in the activity between capitals in rural communities. No doubt this weakness reinforces these communities in the sense of feeling left behind or left out. So, just yesterday, Ambassador García-López and I had notional discussions about possible initiatives that we can join together on that, that will help tackle some of these connectivity gaps. Done the right way, this work would expand the reach of the digital economy to areas that seem to be losing young people to migration. Unsurprisingly, the road maps also point to problems with food and security in the region, which we all know are drivers of migration and despair.

And the good news is, that we do have food and tools to tackle these challenges. On the humanitarian and food assistance front -- through our Office of Food for Peace, for example -- we've provided food assistance to Honduras and Guatemala throughout the last couple of years. And this assistance includes cash transfers for food so that individuals who are struck by drought can purchase nutritious foods in markets, so they not only get nutrition, but they ensure that the money helps to support global markets and businesses.

But I think we all know that this kind of assistance -- food assistance, humanitarian assistance -- is not a long-term answer. It does not help address food insecurity in the long run, nor will it catalyze enterprise opportunities for young people seeking a brighter future. A reason to stay, a reason to be part of a licit economy. And so, something that's very important to us -- food security isn't merely a condition to address. In many places it's the most practical path to economic improvement for families in rural communities. And so, with new developments in our groundbreaking Feed the Future programs, we believe that we can offer new tools and close coordination with private enterprise, and with all of you to help strengthen agri-business, not just for individual countries but, we hope, in transactional and regional commerce as well.

Feed the Future initiatives in Guatemala and Honduras are now helping farmers boost their income, teaching them how to grow stable crops more efficiently. We're helping them to expand in high-value products, products like horticulture and coffee. We're offering tools to help production practices and to access critical inputs like water and financing. We're also working closely with many of you to connect these farmers and these families to international markets as well as local, to companies like Starbucks and Walmart and Caregiver. In Honduras, last year alone, Feed the Future led to 35,000 farmers using technologies like [inaudible] seeds, irrigation, and fertilizer to produce more crops, and to lift economic circumstances and help communities become more self-reliant. And the great news is, the government of Honduras is replicating this powered introduction model with heavy investments of its own.

As I mentioned, like never before at USAID, we are dedicated to co-investment and co-design of initiatives with our friends at IDB and private enterprise, and elsewhere. We have already collaborated and co-invested with employers in Guatemala we've worked to help improve nutrition and education in the western highlands with these partners. And we hope -- we want to do much more. Over the past year, USAID missions in Guatemala [inaudible] and Honduras and El Salvador have each launched major private-sector programs that facilitate investments and, we believe, will create new jobs. We have interesting new partnerships with companies that have been represented over these last couple of days -- Walmart and Starbucks and Microsoft -- but we also know that all of these initiatives will be insufficient to produce the kinds of inclusive growth that we all want to see.

And so those metrics that I referred to, the road maps, they've shown us that it's the enabling environment itself in the region which oftentimes hinders the ability of families and entrepreneurs to seek a brighter future. On the lighter side, it's often bureaucracy. On the darker side, it might be corruption. But these forces clearly will hold the region back if significant reforms are not undertaken. The Millennium Challenge Corporation, which is closely linked with USAID incentivizes reforms and compacts, and what we want to do is work with each of you as equal partners to make sure that those reforms are move widespread.

Thanks to President Trump's leadership, USAID has more resources available for domestic resource mobilization, and so we want to help all of you pass your capacity to collect revenue more efficiently but also make sure that it is more transparently and effectively allocated to your priorities. These same tools can help reformers tackle the soft and hard extortion that businesses so often face. We're committed to work with our counterparts at NFC, the IDB, and your governments, and the private sector to put in place international best practices. We want to be make sure that the capacities in your region, the great capacities that you have -- the natural resources, the great work ethic -- are brought to bear to address immediate concerns in the region, but also to link up to international congress so that your young people look and realize the future that can be in your region. That there are good paying jobs, exciting jobs, and real opportunities in these rural areas.

The topics that we've been discussing today and that we'll discuss tomorrow -- you know, they're often times [inaudible]. But there are countless examples of promise and progress. Just this past August, USAID, the government of Guatemala, and the government of Mexico brought together over 300 actors from across the private sector, government, academia, and the donor community to provoke cross-border investment, and trade between Southern Mexico and Southwestern Guatemala. New contacts were made during those sessions; $1.7 million in potential sales from potential businesses in the western highlands to Mexican buyers were identified. The governments of Mexico and Guatemala signed a new consensus, a new road map to strengthen cross-border trade. That, to me, is the path forward to a brighter future.

Finally, it is fitting in so many ways, that this conference that brings us all here, is divided into two days, in two very distinct subjects. I know tomorrow much of the discussion will be around insecurity, and the problems of crime that are there. Today's discussion, I believe, is in many ways more important, because if we are successful -- all of us, as partners -- in building opportunities and extending opportunities, particularly in those communities that feel left behind or left out, then in the not-to-distant future, topics that we take up tomorrow will seem far less important.

So, thank you for your attendance today, and all that you're doing. I know you'll have productive sessions tomorrow. But on behalf of USAID, more than anything else, thank you for your partnership. We really appreciate the opportunity to work with you.