Jun 14, 2017 - 10:30am

The Reform Agenda Central America Needs


Senior Vice President, Americas

310421951_1-7.jpg

San Andres, Iztapa, Guatemala, "Bicimaquinas" built from bikes donated from the U.S./Canada. Photo: Daniele Volpe/Bloomberg

The U.S. private sector has been a vital force in the push to foster economic success and stability in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – three countries that form what is known as Central America’s “Northern Triangle.” But despite billions of dollars in foreign direct investment and efforts to implement corporate social responsibility programs, creation of economic growth and prosperity has been slow – and insufficient.

These deficiencies are not without consequences. Tens of thousands of Central American families – children included – who lack opportunity and are faced with insecurity and violence at home, choose to turn away from their countries, looking instead to countries like the United States for gainful employment and a more secure environment.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, on behalf of an American private sector that has a vested interest in Central America’s success, has long worked throughout the region to create opportunity, growth, and prosperity. With economic development as our key priority, we’ve highlighted key reforms to enhance governance and the rule of law. But to date, governments across the Northern Triangle have not altogether held up their end of the bargain. Many of the reforms that would serve to drive their prosperity remain unaddressed, so our commercial relationship is not where it should be – or could be.

This afternoon, we’re joining the Inter-American Development Bank, plus government and private sector leaders from across the region, for the “Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America,” with a clear focus on addressing – and altering – that reality.

How do we get there? Most of all, we need to define – together – a more effective strategy for building a sustainable foundation of security and prosperity across Central America. The good news is that a template for an effective strategy already exists; we just have to commit ourselves to implementing it.

Three years ago, the governments from the Northern Triangle came together in Washington, D.C., and made clear their commitment to improving the region through the “Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity of the Northern Triangle.”

The Chamber welcomed the plan, which aimed to spark action to expand Central American economies and improve the business climate, including by, in part, addressing the root causes of the immigration crisis.

Because the Northern Triangle governments understood that broad-based prosperity must be driven by businesses, not by government aid alone, the plan recognized the importance of strong private-sector partnerships. 

Unfortunately, more than 1,000 days since the plan was unveiled, the challenges it set out to tackle still persist, and far too few of its pledges have been enacted.

We gather today in South Florida with senior leadership from the U.S. and Mexican governments to reaffirm our commitment to the people in the Northern Triangle, and more concretely, to set a path forward for addressing the security, governance, and economic challenges in the region.

However, our voices and our presence alone will not be enough. It is time for the governments in the Northern Triangle to take real, impactful actions. It is time for the three governments to recommit to upholding the rule of law, eliminating corruption, reforming their tax codes, increasing transparency, improving security, and creating opportunity for all of their citizens.

In doing this, the countries of the Northern Triangle can demonstrate to the international business community that they are serious about their vision and that they are willing to ensure these shared goals come to fruition. 

The U.S. private sector is committed to working with the governments to achieve this end, but meaningful investment and job creation for Central American workers can only happen in tandem with real, sustainable reforms.

Putting reforms like this in place won’t be easy, but their effective implementation holds the potential of creating a virtuous circle whereby increased investment is the catalyst in the transformation of a Central America that’s safer, more prosperous, and a more attractive destination for job-creating foreign capital.

About the Author

About the Author

Senior Vice President, Americas

Bond manages teams dedicated to policy and advocacy services for Chamber clients with business interests in the Americas.