Remarks to Members of the American Chamber of Commerce

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Buenos Aires, Argentina
August 4, 2016

(Applause.) Well, good morning. Good morning, everybody. Thank you very, very much. Thank you for the introduction. Thank you for being here. I’m really delighted to have a chance to be able to share a few thoughts with all of you this morning. My thanks to AmCham Argentina, to Manuel Aguirre, to Alejandro Diaz, and to Daniel Martin for making this event possible. I really appreciate it very, very much.

And I want to thank all of you for what you do, because you’re involved in the most important enterprise in the world today, which is really helping to tame the worst elements of globalization and put the best elements to work for people. And one of the most exciting things that is happening here in Argentina right now is this new government is bringing a level of expertise, business savvy, sensitivity, common sense, practicality to the marketplace of governance marrying with the private sector.

And my message to you today is really a very, very simple one. It is that I come here with the same sense of optimism that President Obama brought here, that we believe in the friendship between our countries. We share your optimism and hope, and we are extremely excited about the possibilities of Argentina. This is a sea change, what is taking place here. And you all are a very, very big part of that. The private sector, we believe, is both the driver of economic growth and a key contributor to the goals of development and international understanding that are essential to the work that we now do at the State Department.

I was telling folks earlier that when I came in as Secretary of State, people sort of viewed foreign policy as something you do over here, and then the Treasury Department does economics or the Commerce Department does economics – not in our State Department today and not in this world today. I said when I first got nominated to be Secretary of State there is no difference; foreign policy is economic policy and economic policy is foreign policy in today’s world. And you better understand that as you approach the challenges that we face, which are enormous.

It is a complex world, much more complex than the world of the last century during which I was raised. I grew up in the Cold War. Many of you here did the same, and it was very bipolar: East, West; Soviet Union, the West; Warsaw Pact, so forth, NATO. But that’s not the world we’re living in today, even though NATO still exists and there are challenges of security. But the fact is that we’re much more integrated; we’re much more dependent on each other; we’re much more reliant on moving goods quickly, breaking down barriers, get rid of red tape, end the tyranny of bureaucracy. In today’s world, particularly when you look at technology companies and other kinds of companies, it just moves at a pace that is extraordinary.

So I have a pretty good understanding of all this. I served for about 10 years as chairman of the Small Business Committee in the United States Senate, and I actually opened a small business myself when I opened – after I opened my own law firm, I was working in private sector. And the store that I created in Boston, Massachusetts – a tiny, little purveyor of various foodstuffs, so forth, in Faneuil Hall Marketplace, if you’ve ever been there – I’m proud to say it’s still there 40 years later. So if I hadn’t made the choice to go to into public service, I could have been the Steve Jobs of fast food or cookies or something. (Laughter.)

And in six months, when I finish up this tour as Secretary of State, I actually am looking forward to engaging in some private sector enterprise, because the privilege of traveling the world to try to resolve conflicts has also given me rare insight into the just vast opportunities on this planet that exist today. And if we can tame some of these negative forces, restrain the levels of corruption in certain places, and improve governance in certain places, it’s just unfathomable the growth that we could witness, because still, half the world is living on a pittance, as you all know, on very little money – huge numbers of people living on less than $2 a day, a dollar a day. The room for infrastructure, development, growth, hospitals, schools, education, et cetera, is just gigantic.

Now, I know Ronald Reagan, because I served in the Senate when he was president, used to get a laugh by saying that the most terrifying words in the English language were “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” (Laughter.) But I hope – I think that may well apply in Spanish too. (Laughter.) I hope you agree that the work that the U.S. embassy is doing here is of enormous value, and I can certainly attest to the long hours that Ambassador Noah Mamet is applying and his team is applying, and I thank them for all that they do.

I have been Secretary of State now for three and a half years, but I served as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and 28 years in the Senate. And I can tell you that wherever I go, I firsthand see and feel this connection between prosperity and, in today’s world, the preservation of stability. So what we’re talking about when we talk about growth and development is not just putting money into the hands of investors; we’re talking about building security. We’re talking about giving people the alternative to seeing their minds plucked by recruiters of extremism of one kind or another. And where you see this stability, where you see this growth, you rarely see the kind of disquiet that you see in certain regions of the world today.

I think that this connection is particularly visible right here in Argentina now. This country has a terrific new leadership team. There is an economic reform agenda on the table that is aimed at boosting trade and investment, eliminating poverty, creating jobs, easing regulatory burdens, and reintegrating Argentina into the world economy. And it’s impressive. They are people who know what they’re doing. They’re people who have experience. And above all, it is our sense that they are committed to making sure the government is open and transparent and accountable and run with an honest approach – not to line the pockets of individuals, but to make sure that the country prospers as a whole.

Now, when you make some of the choices that they have made, which are bold initiatives, which are timely, you can see the difficulties, because it’s not all going to change overnight. Getting rid of bad habits takes a little bit of time and investment takes a little bit of time to take hold and begin to create the momentum. But I am 100 percent confident, as is President Obama, that Argentina is on the right course, and people need to be patient. They need to work at this.

Now, there are many ways to think about how you help economies to diversify and become more competitive and productive, and I know that all of you have your own thoughts about what works best or what the first step is. But let me just outline very, very quickly what we think are four key priorities.

First of all, the foundation of a thriving economy, the foundation of a democracy, the foundation of good governance, the foundation of people’s ability to be able to go out and use opportunities and make the most of them is very simple.

Education – educacion – education – it is the key. And Argentina has long been recognized as a regional leader in that regard, but here, as in the – as in our country, there is often a disconnect between the skills that schools teach and the expertise that the marketplace demands. And that’s why it is increasingly important that the private sector make an academic commitment – join in a commitment to academic excellence, be involved in the process. And we have the right ambassador here to, I think, help you do that, because he has a background in this. He understands it.

Now, President Obama recognized this when he created the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund, which mobilizes private sector funding in order to help students get the experience and instruction that they need to work effectively in this modern world. I look at this fight over trade today in the United States, and I voted for trade agreements when I was in the United States Senate. And we had a strong consensus built over the years around trade and the consensus was built because promises were made to people that if we engaged in increased trade, people were going to benefit.

During the 1990s in America under the Clinton Administration, every single quintile of income earner in America saw their incomes go up – every single one. But I might say in fairness, in bipartisanship, President George Herbert Walker Bush made some tough decisions before he lost the election that also began to take hold, and he honestly shares some credit in those years. There was a technology boom and things began to change.

But the – what’s happened is that consensus is fraying not just in America but elsewhere in the world, because as globalization has increased, not every quintile of income earners in many countries have seen their incomes go up. And that just doesn’t work, folks. You can’t just see all the product of this revolution in the marketplace going to the top 1 percent, and we’re having that fight in America right now. That’s part of what’s going on in our politics and it’s part of the fight in other places too.

So if you have trade adjustment assistance – there is dislocation with trade, and if you have assistance to help people transition from the job they had to the job they’re going to have or could have – particularly if they’re 45 or 50 or 55 years old – that’s how you hold a country together. That’s how you create a civil society that has strength to withstand the bumps that occur in the context of economic change.

So it is important that Argentina pursue this education track with programs that prepare students for the workplace in cutting-edge fields like health, environmental science, information technology, STEM education. And I know that some of your companies are already supporters of the fund and you’re also friends of the Fulbright Program, and I encourage others to consider that possibility not as a matter of just being nice but as a matter of your self-interest in making this work.

A second area that demands our attention is investment in trade itself. Now, we strongly support President Macri’s effort to further integrate Argentina into the global economy and we look forward to the next month’s G20 summit, which both our governments are going to be supporting policies aimed at strong, sustainable, and balanced economic growth, and we welcome Argentina’s commitment to chair the G20 in 2018. And you should make that 2018 target a big deal in terms of the organization – it’s a great organizing principle with respect to many of the things that you want to accomplish.

Now, in March, during the president’s historic visit here, the United States and Argentina signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement that illustrates our common commitment to engage on such issues as market access, intellectual property, workers’ rights. And our two-way trade now exceeds $20 billion, but let me make it clear we view that as a floor, not a ceiling. And as the Macri Administration continues with its reform program, we expect to see a lot more investments that benefit both countries.

And the inaugural U.S-Argentina Commercial Dialogue is going to be held in Washington later this year. That’s going to just add to the momentum, folks. And to facilitate business and travel and tourism, I’m pleased that we will be signing a joint statement with Argentina to begin working towards a global entry program.

Now, this brings me to the third priority, and that is entrepreneurship and small business. In Latin America, as in the United States, more than half the new jobs are created by small and medium-sized businesses. Now, I saw this firsthand when I was serving as chair of the small business committee in the United States Senate. Almost all of our jobs were being created by small or medium-sized business. And four years ago, President Obama launched the Small Business Network of the Americas. As part of that effort, we are cooperating to establish an Argentinian network of small business development centers. I’ve seen these centers. I opened one in Chile and you just – it’s amazing, the impact that that has for women, for startup enterprises, people who need a little bit of assistance, and it just opens the doors of opportunity in extraordinary ways.

The bottom line is that if our goal is to grow the middle class and help families create a better life for their children, then we need to do everything that we can to help small businesses start up and tap into regional and global markets. And with the internet today, it’s stunning how a family-grown mom-and-pop business run out of the house or some small little basement or building can actually be selling goods in the world. Nobody’s out of touch if you pay attention to connectivity.

And finally, we have to understand that the healthiest economies in the future are absolutely going to be those that are built on the power sources of the future. Now, today, clean energy technologies are more affordable. They’re more available. They’re better-performing than ever before. And believe me, we can use them to help curb climate change even as they generate jobs. This is something I actually have spent – I’ve spent 30 years in that field. I began to be involved when I was a lieutenant governor in Massachusetts in – and I served as lieutenant governor chairing a governor’s task force on acid rain. And I worked with Republicans, Democrats alike. We built the Clean Air Act provision for our power supply in America out of that – with a trading mechanism, by the way, which today you couldn’t even begin to start to talk about in American politics, but it worked back then. Still works today. And it solved the problem.

But I have watched this issue. I was in the Senate in 1988 when Jim Hansen first testified about global climate change happening. And I was in Rio in 1992 for the global Earth Summit. And I was in most of the Conference of the Parties meetings in – one here, one in Copenhagen, and around the world over the years. And I was in the negotiations in Paris, and I was privileged to sign for the United States at the United Nations this year for the Paris agreement with 186 nations saying we’re going to change.

Now, I will tell you that what is happening around this planet is happening far faster than anybody predicted and the evidence is clear. We’re seeing it in so many different ways. Last year we spent $230 billion in America fixing up the damage from intensified storms – once-in-500-year storms. Floods – once-in-500-year floods. Fires devastating forests. Agriculture that’s affected by the increased heat. Last month was the hottest month in the history of the world – recorded history. The month before that was the hottest. The month before that was the hottest. In fact, last year was the hottest year in recorded history. But guess what? Last year was one of ten years that made it the hottest decade in recorded history. And the decade before that was the – is now the second hottest. And the decade before that is the third hottest.

Do you begin to get the drift? I mean, common sense at some point begins to say, “Hey, something’s happening.” But we don’t need to rely on just common sense because the science is telling us this every single day. And what we did in Paris was send a message to the marketplace: The future is going to be in alternative and renewable energy or low fossil burn energy. You have resources, obviously, with shale gas, and you have great potential, and gas is 50 percent – if burned correctly, 50 percent less damaging than CO2 – than, excuse me, than oil – coal or oil. Coal’s the most damaging of all, obviously.

So the bottom line is this: This is an economic opportunity. The economy I referred to about the 1990s was an economy that was built up on a $1 trillion market with 1 billion users. It was the technology – computer, personal computer, personal communications, et cetera. One trillion; one billion users. The energy economy staring us in the face already has four to five billion users, it’s going to go up to nine billion users as we see what’s happening with population, and it’s already a multitrillion dollar market. The arguments vary as to how large, but we are looking at the possibilities of trillions of dollars being invested in this marketplace over the course of the next 30 years.

Last year we had $330 billion invested for the first time in history in the alternative renewable clean energy market, and for the first time in history more money is being invested in these technologies than in fossil fuels. This trend is opening the door to the mother of all markets. And the rewards are going to go to the swift, to the people who get it and understand it. And by the way, nobody does – you all know about accounting better than anybody in the world – nobody does realistic accounting when they start telling you how much it costs per kilowatt hour to burn and people say, “Oh, I’m going to go use coal.” Because you’re going to pay on the back end for coal with increased number of cancer, increased problems in your hospitals with kids who are – and the greatest source of hospitalization in America of children in the summer are kids who are there because of environmentally induced asthma. Billions we spend, not to mention the billions on those storms, and the billions down the road in other ways for remediation when land starts chipping away because of sea level rise and so forth.

So, my friends, the renewable energy auction that is underway is going to generate as much as one gigawatt of new wind and solar capacity and more – and it’s going to move your country toward a goal of 8 percent renewable energy generation next year, and we strongly urge you: embrace it. Go for it. This is an area of enormous change. And the workshops that we sponsored recently in Buenos Aires and Neuquen Province were designed to show how government can assist in meeting an energy goal for a nation which includes expanded access, safety, efficiency, and sustainability.

Our embassy, by the way, is setting an example with new solar panels, energy-efficient lighting, and a new wind turbine. And here in Argentina and across the planet this energy revolution is accelerating because of the vision of the private sector and the community leaders who understand that climate change is real and has potentially catastrophic consequences for us if we don’t change.

So we are delighted that under President Macri’s leadership, Argentina joined the United States in signing the agreement, and we’re working together to bring this pact into force as soon as possible.

So just to wrap up, as we think about the future – which I hope you feel as excited about as I do – I see opportunity. Sure, we wake up in the morning, and – like we did today – and you read about people being stabbed in London, or the terrible events of Ankara and Paris and Belgium and Orlando and so forth. But we’re living in an extraordinary time where the truth is people are actually living better; there’s less overall killing in the massive terms that we saw last century with two world wars and other wars; we’re seeing us on the brink of curing diseases, the first generation that will be AIDS-free in Africa, we stopped Ebola, we will deal with Zika; we have remarkable progress in health and the health sector; we are seeing young people born today live longer, greater chance they will be fed and live a better life and go to school than at any time in human history. You don’t hear about that every day.

So if we do what you do best, which is keep faith in realities of the marketplace, invest correctly, be sensitive to the bad forces of greed and excess within that marketplace – but if we do what we can do, then I tell you, we’ll make it. And Pope Francis, speaking to the challenge of climate change and other things, said, “It is never too late. God’s world has incredible healing powers, and human choices can change the tide in global warming. It is up to us to shape our future; it is up to us to change our destiny.”

That’s what you’re doing here in Argentina, and I salute you for it. I congratulate each and every one of you for all you’re doing to create opportunity for the people of this country. And I believe the friendship between the United States and Argentina is going to grow and grow for generations to come. Because you’re on the right track and the future of this country and of this region could not be brighter.

Thank you for the privilege of being with you today. (Applause.)