EXPO Belize Market Place 2012
September 15, 2012
Thank you to the organizers, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry and thank you to this great crowd for coming out for this exciting event. It’s wonderful to be here today with many good friends for the opening of Expo Belize 2012. Belize and the United States have a long history of working together and I am very glad that the U.S. Embassy is a part of this Expo again. The Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year organizing the Expo, an event that has become a cornerstone of the September celebrations. This is the broadest opportunity of the year to interact with businesses and the Belizean public, which I’m very excited about.
Before I continue on the main subject of today, which is the trade and economic ties between Belize and the U.S. I would like to talk about another subject that our two countries have in common which is diversity and tolerance.
I want to take a moment to address the video circulating on the Internet that has led to violent protests in a number of countries. Some Belizeans have asked me why doesn’t the U.S. government pull the video from the internet? Let me state very clearly that the United States Government had absolutely nothing to do with this video. We reject its content and message in its entirety. America’s commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. And as you know, like Belize, we are a tolerant, multi-cultural nation which is home to people of all religions, many of whom came to our countries seeking the right to exercise their own religion, including, of course, millions of Muslims. We have the greatest respect for people of faith.
To us, to me personally, this video is disgusting and reprehensible. It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose: to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage, however there is no justification, none at all, for responding to this video with violence. We condemn the violence in the strongest terms, and we greatly appreciate that many Muslims in the United States and around the world have spoken out on this issue.
Going back to the question of why the U.S. does not block this video - Belize and the United States share a long tradition of free expression which is enshrined in our Constitutions and our laws, and we do not stop individual citizens from expressing their views no matter how distasteful they may be.
Shifting from the most serious of world affairs, I would like to take the opportunity to say thank you to the people and the country of Belize. Today is a very special day for me and my wife Barbara. Today marks the third anniversary of our arrival in Belize. It’s been an amazing three years where I’ve been able to experience first-hand how close out two countries are - culturally, politically, and economically. Economics is, of course, very important here today and to me personally. As many of you know, I came to be an Ambassador not as a career Foreign Service Officer, but through the private sector. I worked in various businesses for 31 years before joining the U.S. foreign service. I have personally found, and I am sure you have as well, that to succeed in business, it is essential to establish and cultivate good partners.
Businesses, or business partnerships, or businesspeople - none can succeed in a vacuum. People need other people to develop ideas, test ideas - whether they are business models, high-tech engineering solutions, or government policy discussions. All these activities need input from multiple minds to develop properly and succeed. Every Belizean I’ve met knows something about the United States - and many have a relative living there or have visited. These ties are reflected in our business relationships and our economic partnerships, both public and private. More than 30% of all of Belize’s imports come from the United States and more than 30% of all Belize’s exports go to the United States. As a result of these close economic ties, whenever one of us prospers, the other also benefits.
We are all here today because we believe in Belize’s potential, its future, its opportunities for doing business - shared opportunities between Belize and the United States. There are many ways we could talk about prosperity in Belize. There are so many real opportunities for Belize, such as increasing agriculture, call centers, developing its IT sector - all niches where it can excel.
Belize already leads in many fields. For example, in the field of bioenergy, the University of Belize, in partnership with the Government of Japan, broke ground on unique solar panels. Belize has a co-generation plant at the sugar factory, and it has shown itself as a leader in eco-friendly energy. 40% of Belizean power supply comes from renewable energy sources, a figure envied by countries in the region.
U.S.-Belizean partnerships take many different forms. The United States is eager to continue working with Belize focusing on community. We just opened a drop-in center promoting community-based empowerment, giving children a place to go after school, a place to get tutoring, to learn a new sport, or to play one they already love. The key to success in these types of programs is cooperation. That drop-in center was not just opened by the United States, but in partnership with the UNDP, the Government of Belize, and the private sector. The United States, the Government of Belize, international organizations - none can succeed in the goal of promoting citizen security and community development without cooperation from the private sector and buy-in from local communities.
We have helped with community development across the country - from helping farmers in Toledo store and market corn, to assisting an association of neighborhood watches in Cayo, to supporting an NGO that works with victims of human trafficking in Orange Walk, to a aiding a literacy program which features Pat the Great Cat, a book written by Belizean and American school children about a jaguar that the Belize Zoo donated to the Milwaukee Zoo. There are so many people across the country working on so many great projects that I am constantly inspired and delighted. I truly feel I have one of the best jobs in the world.
I hope you all stop by the United States’ booth and check out the many, many ways in which we work in partnership with Belize. From Pat the Great Cat to our trade partnerships to our people-to-people exchanges, commercial and economic cooperation comes from these interactions. U.S. citizens continue to be excited about visiting and investing in Belize. From the incredible natural wonders and ancient history found within its borders to investment and volunteer opportunities, I hear about many of the amazing experiences they’ve had here.
Working hand in hand-- promoting cooperation -- means greater prosperity for both of our countries. Being in Belize is incredible. It is about being part of something big, working toward universal good: education, reduction in poverty, reduction in crime, greater opportunities for women and minorities, promoting bioenergy, and many other areas.
I am excited to be here today, and I know I will enjoy the rest of my time here, mingling with you all, seeing all of the booths that are here which we can enjoy. Thank you.