International Business

Commerce secretary promotes engagement with the Americas

US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker in 2014 file photo
US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker in 2014 file photo AP

U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker announced Thursday in Miami that she’ll be taking her first South American trip since taking up her post.

Pritzker plans to visit Colombia and Brazil — two important strategic partners for the United States — in mid-June. Friday is the third anniversary of the U.S-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, she said, and the Brazil trip represents “an opportunity to work on issues related to our economic relationship” prior to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s June 30 visit to Washington.

“The Obama administration’s renewed focus on the Americas can produce a new wave of trade and commerce that can spur the entire Western Hemisphere to become more globally competitive,” Pritzker said during a luncheon address at the third and final day of the Discover Global Markets: The Americas conference at the Hilton Miami Downtown.

The conference, presented by the Florida District Export Council and the U.S. Commercial Service, is one of 30 events being held throughout Florida to mark World Trade Month. It brought together some 400 business executives and U.S. government officials working around the Americas to discuss how to succeed in global markets.

Pritzker’s remarks came as the Senate voted Thursday to give the president accelerated negotiating authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and for legislation that cracks down on countries that the United States deems currency manipulators.

Getting trade promotion authority, which is also known as fast track, is considered crucial to concluding negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership — an accord the United States is negotiating with 11 Pacific Rim countries. Under fast track, Congress can vote a trade pact up or down but can’t amend it or filibuster.

“It’s a reality that the leaders in the TPP aren’t prepared to put their final and best offers on the table until we have [Trade Promotion Authority],” said Pritzker in an interview with the Miami Herald.

“What’s important is that we’re one step closer to executing on the president’s vision of expanded trade,” she said. The trade pacts are important to the future of American business and for American workers, Pritzker said.

During last month’s Summit of the Americas in Panama, Pritzker said, President Barack Obama emphasized a “new chapter of engagement in the region” based on “equal partnerships, deeper economic ties, mutual interests and mutual respect.”

As part of that process, the administration is working on reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. “We’re on a good path [with Cuba] and engagement has started,” said Pritzker. “We will have embassies soon.”

Earlier in the day, the commerce secretary talked with a group of 25 Miami business leaders interested in working with Cuba. One of the things they mentioned was the potential technical problems of doing business with the island because Cuba’s banking, legal and trading systems don’t mesh well with new commercial opportunities outlined in the Obama opening toward Cuba that was announced Dec. 17.

Once respective embassies are open, the two sides can begin addressing such issues one by one, Pritzker said. But she pointed out: “There’s an embargo in place and that continues to be an impediment.”

“The U.S.-Cuba relationship has been one of isolation for 54 years. You can’t expect that overnight or after six months all of the laws, organization or processes will be in place,” Pritzker told the Herald. “There are a lot of things that have to be addressed. Everything is a process but there is a desire. The good news is that [Cuban leader] Raúl Castro says he wants to get this done.”

Pritzker also addressed the mixed feelings toward the Cuba opening in Miami: “Given the long, difficult and sometimes painful history between our countries, for many Cuban-Americans the idea of renewing any relations with the Cuban government is challenging. But decades of isolation have not built a democratic and prosperous Cuba — and now is the time to try a different approach.”