Opening Remarks for Tsunami Reconstruction Forum - Speech by Thomas J. Donohue | U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Opening Remarks for Tsunami Reconstruction Forum - Speech by Thomas J. Donohue

Monday, January 17, 2005 - 7:00pm

January 18, 2005

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Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Chamber of Commerce of the United States. My name is Tom Donohue, and I am the Chamber's President and CEO.

I would like to begin by thanking the organizations listed on the screen behind me for their cooperation and to all of you for being here.

I'd like to extend a special thank you to the program's participants: Administrator Natsios [NOT-SEE-ÔS]; the distinguished ambassadors from Thailand, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka; the Minister from India; and senior representatives from the U.S. Department of State, OPIC, IMF, World Bank and the United Nations.

I'd also like to acknowledge distinguished members of the audience, including the ambassador from Malaysia.

The purpose of this gathering is to bring the corporate world together to listen to the Ambassadors from the impacted countries, senior U.S. government officials, and the multilateral community about the needs, priorities, and challenges of the reconstruction phase.

American business is committed to playing an important role in the reconstruction of the economies and infrastructures of the affected nations in Asia and Africa. Many of the Chamber's members have vital economic interests in the regions impacted by the Tsunami. They have customers, employees, suppliers, and physical assets in these countries.

They want to help. Their commitment is evident from the hundreds of millions of dollars they have contributed in financial and in-kind assistance so far.

Sustainable reconstruction and long-term planning doesn't mean just rebuilding roads, bridges, buildings or energy infrastructures.

In our view, it also means helping these countries create an environment conducive to economic growth and greater prosperity.

This is where the U.S. business community can help most.

The Chamber is committed to developing a public-private partnership to help the region build for its future.

We offer the following blueprint for working with the public and private sectors.

First, Aid. The Chamber, as well as other collaborative business organizations, should continue to work with corporate donors and international assistance organizations to align charitable, humanitarian, and philanthropic initiatives with long-term development goals in Asia and Africa.

In addition, we encourage the establishment of a coordinated business disaster assistance network so that responses to future disasters are even more effective and efficient.

Our Center for Corporate Citizenship welcomes working with other business organizations to achieve this goal.

Second, Trade. Even before the tsunami, trade liberalization was vital to the developing world's long-term growth and prosperity. It is today even more so.

We urge governments to liberalize trade with these countries and the developing world by completing the Doha WTO Round on time and moving forward with important industry specific initiatives within APEC aimed at lowering barriers to trade. Taking such actions will foster growth in these affected countries and help stimulate the world economy.

To succeed in such efforts, however, we are counting on the political will of governments to make substantial progress this year as we lead up to the WTO Ministerial in Hong Kong and the APEC Leaders meeting in Korea.

As a more immediate course of action, however, we would also urge our Administration and Congress in the months ahead to work with the multilateral community on a trade relief package that would temporarily reduce tariffs on key exports from the affected countries.

Here, in the United States, we should also determine how we might expand the GSP Program for these countries.

Other avenues to consider would be accelerated trade and investment talks with Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand—all countries that currently have Trade and Investment Framework Agreements in place with the U.S.

Third, Investment. We believe that sustained, long term economic growth depends on expanding foreign direct investment.

We welcome initiatives by a variety of international financial institutions to develop capital instruments to rebuild physical infrastructure and facilitate financial recovery.

Again, we believe that a concerted effort between the public and private sectors will ultimately lead to the most comprehensive reconstruction.

Fourth, Information Sharing. It is absolutely critical that the Chamber and other organizations continue to meet and provide forums for information sharing and dialogue. Today's forum should be first of many.

Finally, Regional Facilitation. The Chamber will work with key business organizations in the affected countries, including American Chambers of Commerce, to promote coordination and information sharing. We want to pay particular attention to helping foster business partnerships in areas of need and providing technical assistance to small and medium size enterprises.

We have a delegation participating in the Indonesian president's infrastructure conference in Jakarta this week. We appreciate those companies and organizations that sent representatives to this important forum.

Today is the first step forward in bringing corporate and governmental expertise together to tackle a challenge of enormous proportions.

Let me emphasize one final time that the U.S. community stands united and ready to play its part.

As a final word, let me again extend my deepest sympathies to those directly impacted by this great tragedy.

I am confident that out of this tragedy, the strong people of the region will not only persevere, but will respond by building stronger communities than before.

With that, I would like to introduce our Senior Vice President for International Affairs, Dan Christman, who will welcome our keynote speaker and emcee today's program.