Walter Bastian is Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for the Western Hemisphere, a part of Market Access and Compliance.
From June 1 to June 5, I had the opportunity to lead a group of U.S. business executives on a trade mission to Santiago, Chile and Lima, Peru. The mission was comprised of executives pursuing business opportunities across a wide range of manufacturing and service sectors. The results were impressive.
Chile and Peru were selected as target markets for a variety of reasons, including market potential and ease of doing business. These factors were enhanced by the existence of free trade agreements each has with the United States. Besides the eventual elimination of all tariffs on U.S. products entering these markets, these agreements establish clear and transparent rules for the conduct of business with U.S. firms. These agreements have worked. In the case of Chile, U.S. exports in 2008 were up 49.4 percent over the year before and in Peru, U.S. exports were up 51 percent over the same period. U.S. exports to Chile are up 345 percent since 2004 when the agreement went into effect. Last year, Peru was the fastest growing export market in the Western Hemisphere.
The heart of the mission is the business matchmaking service provided by the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service in both countries. Each company had appointments each day with prescreened local companies. The mission participants also had the opportunity to meet and talk to members of the U.S. and local business communities at events hosted by the embassies. The days were full. Meals became business meetings. The business days lasted well into the night.
Chris Hood of Coastal International Logistics, LLC, noted that his business philosophy was to “be brief, be bright, be gone.” He had a contract before leaving the first stop. He and the other mission members seemed to adhere to the same philosophy and contributed to a highly successful trade mission.
While mission members were busy developing new clients and pursuing commercial opportunities, I met with government officials to pursue issues which would further enhance the competitiveness of U.S. firms in these markets. I met with customs officials, economy and energy ministers, business groups and NGOs. I also visited examples of U.S. corporate social responsibility and highlighted the value of partnerships with the U.S. private sector.
The mission was truly representative of a public/private sector partnership. In the end, the public and private sectors accomplished their mutual objectives of contributing to the economic growth of the United States and creating U.S. jobs through exports.