Assistant Secretary General Speech


September 26, 2016 - Toronto, Ontario, Canada


Honorable Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development & Growth of Ontario

Mr. Bill Mantel, Assistant Deputy Minister

Ministers of Bahamas, Dominica, and St. Lucia

I am deeply honored to be participating in this 6th ACE. Allow me to convey my deepest and most sincere appreciation to all of you for joining us for the most important hemispheric exchange on competitiveness in the Americas, starting here in Toronto, Canada’s largest city and a global center for business, finance, arts and culture.
In particular, I would like to thank Ministers Bains, and the teams from Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED;) and Global Affairs Canada; and the Province of Ontario, Premier Wynne and Ministers Duguid and Moridi, for their leadership in organizing the Sixth ACE. 

We appreciate your warm hospitality and hard work over the past 8 months to organize this Exchange. Our recognition for opening the doors of Canada and Ontario to share your experiences showcasing how the country and province have built an innovative, sustainable and dynamic inclusive economy and society, driving the close collaboration of Canadian people, all levels of government, private sector, universities and businesses. For all of us, leaders from 27 countries of the Americas and our special guests, OAS Observers (Germany, South Korea and Israel), this is a special opportunity to develop strategic partnerships around Canada’s globally recognized innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Let me convey a personal message from OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, thanking Canada and Ontario for hosting the 6th ACE, but especially for the valuable contributions of Canada to the OAS and the Americas, as a country with a long tradition of embracing the democratic system of government, respect for the rule of law, the promotion and protection of human rights, and for promoting the security and prosperity of its citizens.

Ladies & Gentlemen, when we measure innovation and the contribution of science and technology to our economies, current outcomes and global surveys and data do not look very favorable. Latin America and the Caribbean are not producing enough value-added products and services through our businesses to impact development. Our region is lagging behind developed countries and other emerging countries around the world.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competitiveness Index which provides an average ranking on innovation of 90 out of 140 for countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, countries of the region have remained stagnant for the last 5 years without real top performers. The best positioned are Chile-35, Panama-50 and Costa Rica-50. Only 4 countries of the Caribbean are considered in this Index.

Some of the key recommendations for the region push for the implementation of structural reforms, diversification of our economies from commodities and for developing a more skilled work force for the economy of the XXIst century and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

A similar conclusion is identified in the 2016 publication of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the New Imperative of Innovation, Policy Perspectives for Latin America and the Caribbean. Despite the positive impact of the work on Science and Technology, there is an “overall limited effect when the economies are gauged by their competitive performance, their productivity growth, or the knowledge intensity and sophistication of their productive structure.”

The takeaway is clear: Latin America and the Caribbean are underperforming on innovation in comparison to the size of the economies, assets and capabilities available in all our countries.

We need to work to improve our enabling ecosystems, think globally and act locally, nurturing assets and capabilities in each of our communities, building on our comparative and competitive advantages, our biodiversity, culture and identity. We need to empower women’s participation and leadership in innovation, science and technology and to equip our youth with the hard and soft skills demanded by the global and technology-driven economy.

ACE/North American Leaders Summit (NALS)
The Sixth Americas Exchange on Innovation and Entrepreneurship program and visits highlight how an Inclusive Innovation Agenda can be a powerful tool to address development challenges and create conditions for transformation of our societies, where opportunities and rights are extended to all citizens.

We believe that connecting leaders, connecting talented people making a difference, connecting institutions supporting high impact SME development and connecting networks across the Americas can be a force of change.

Let me at this point recognize the important role of the Government of the United States, the Department of Commerce through the Economic Development Administration and the International Trade Administration, as well as the U.S. Department of State, in launching ACE as a regional program under RIAC. I want to recognize Ms. Stephanie Foster from the US State Department and Ms. Judy Reinke from the Department of Commerce. We are also delighted to work with the Government of Mexico as Chair Pro Tempore of RIAC and future host of the X Americas Competitiveness Forum in Mexico City the first week of October of 2017.

It should be noted that over the previous two years of ACE engagement, more than 300 leaders and decision makers from 30 countries of the Americas and beyond have experienced first-hand successful projects and experiences in urban and rural areas, small and medium-sized cities, including advanced technology centers, innovation hubs, examples of public-private partnerships projects, and strategic investments in various sub regions in specific clusters, such as manufacturing, medical devices, water, agriculture, energy, and information and communication technology in the United States, Mexico and Argentina.

The first five ACE events have resulted in expanding talent pools, networks, and sharing lessons on community-driven economic development among OAS member states and have proven to be successful instruments to facilitate cooperation and foster win-win development collaboration across the Western Hemisphere. We are now at the sixth ACE and the challenge I present to all is; how do we innovate to take ACE 7 to the next level?

With ACE we have seen concrete results. Some examples of the mutually beneficial partnerships developed, include: the collaboration between stakeholders in Conover, North Carolina and Hidalgo, Mexico, supporting entrepreneurs in the textile industries of both countries; research centers and co-ops such as Organic Valley in Wisconsin and Escuela Superior Integral Lecheria (ESIL) of Villa María in Cordoba, Argentina, working on business and export development in the dairy industry; inspiring the enhancement of the New Belize Enterprise and Innovation Institute, in my own country, to include incubation programs; facilitating the cross-landing process of young entrepreneurs from UNITEC Honduras to interact and collaborate with the entrepreneurship ecosystems led by UC San Diego; giving momentum to the future launch of a bilateral industrial internship program between Canada and Mexico through Mitacs, a Canadian not-for-profit research and training organization, and Mexico’s National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT).

Such has been the success of ACE that it was recognized as part of the 2016 North American Competitiveness Work Plan, agreed to by Presidents Obama and Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in June 2016 at the North American Leaders Summit (NALS) held in Ottawa, Canada’s capital.

A key component in all of this process has been the Inter-American competitiveness Network or RIAC. The RIAC, which originally started with 16 countries, now includes Competitiveness Authorities, Public and Private Competitiveness Councils coming from the 34 OAS Member States working in collaboration with more than 10 international organizations, including the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF), the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), the Central American Economic Integration System (SIECA), and more than 20 specialized institutions, universities and think-tanks from across the region and beyond our borders.

Allow me also to use this opportunity to acknowledge specifically the support of Canada as a key development partner and donor in launching RIAC by supporting the RIAC Technical Secretariat at the OAS, through the OAS-Canada Cooperation Plan between 2009 and 2015. Had it not been for this financial contribution from Canada, the OAS would not have had the resources to assist the hosts of the Americas Competitiveness Forum-ACF/RIAC and ACE meetings in the same meaningful manner.

I would also like to highlight the key role played by the Permanent Mission of Canada to the OAS, led by Ambassador Jennifer Loten and Mr. Mateo Barney, of Global Affairs Canada, who have provided support to RIAC and the Sixth ACE by facilitating the necessary linkages between Canada’s Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) team, the lead organizer of the Sixth ACE, and the OAS as technical secretariat of the RIAC.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is no secret that Canada is among the top innovation economies in the world featuring leading universities, research institutions and companies. This week we are having the privilege of meeting over 100 speakers while visiting Toronto, Kitchener/Waterloo, Hamilton and Niagara, all vibrant communities of the Province of Ontario, with key assets in the sectors of CleanTech, Life Sciences, Agri-Food, ICT, Advance Manufacturing, and FinTech. 

The leadership and technical team of ISED have done a tremendous job putting together an excellent program, providing us with spaces for deep policy discussions on innovation and entrepreneurship, compelling examples of cutting-edge research and technologies in every sector selected for ACE 6, as well as real life demonstrations of the applications of these policies, investments and technologies in problem solving and industry specific outcomes. WE see tremendous value and potential in all these visits.

For instance, institutions supporting Small and Medium-sized Enterprises are another area of key interest for the Americas, for the OAS, and where potential future collaboration should be developed. We appreciate the important role the Minister of Small Business and Tourism Bardish Chagger will have throughout the program.

We hope that visits to DMZ at Ryerson University, the largest incubator in North America and 3rd in the world, the McMaster innovation Park in Hamilton, Comunitech in Kitchener, Velocity Garage in Waterloo, can spur important follow up collaboration among our SME support institutions in the Americas and provide us with examples of the kind of role that Incubators and accelerators can play to support entrepreneurs and small business. We can build and support the recent agreement between ProMexico, INADEM (Mexico’s National Institute for Entrepreneurs) and DMZ Ryerson and explore options to expand partnerships with other countries.

And all of this fits well within the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The roadmap provided by the 2030 Agenda and its 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) tells us that environmentally sustainable development is an indispensable priority for all.

I am originally from the Caribbean, specifically from Belize. For us, innovation around the nexus of water, energy and food is critical. We certainly hope that ACE 6 and future ACEs continue to produce important collaboration and successful mutually beneficial partnerships.

The Caribbean and Latin American nations are among the most megadiverse countries in the world, with more water, access to oceans and land than most regions of the world. They are however, some of the most vulnerable to climate change and some of what I could refer to Grand Challenges. Some of these “grand challenges” are among the key priorities that the Administration of Secretary General Almagro at the OAS has put at the center of our hemispheric agenda. I will refer to four in particular:

1. According to the most recently measurements, over the past century, the Global Mean Sea Level (GMSL) has risen by 8 inches (20 centimeters) (NOAA, 2016). Most Caribbean nations rely on their coasts for a large percentage of economic activity. The National Academy of Sciences predicted that by 2100, sea level could increase by anywhere from 16 inches to 56 inches, depending how the Earth responds to changing climate (NAS, 2009). Many islands in the Caribbean also face the problem of salt-water infiltration into its freshwater. This is particularly true in the low lying islands such as the Bahamas. We have no technology to measure the rate of erosion of our beaches or to benchmark its future patterns.

2. The Caribbean has some of the world’s highest energy costs. The average cost of electricity is $0.40 a Kw/h compared to $0.10 per Kw/h in the U.S affecting the competitiveness and potential growth of the region.

3. CARICOM countries currently import in excess of US$4 billion in food annually, by far the largest source of food for CARICOM populations, which represents an increase of 50 percent since 2000. Food imports are projected to increase to US $8-10 billion by 2020.

4) It has been documented that increasing the broadband penetration in households has a direct effect on a country’s GDP. According to ECLAC 43.4 per cent of all households of Latin America and The Caribbean were connected to the internet in 2015, nearly doubling the figure from 2010. Yet, in the Caribbean, most countries perform below such average to about 24.5% connectivity in the region, with the exception of St. Kitts and Nevis, Barbados, The Bahamas, Dominica and Trinidad and Tobago.        

I would like that all of us keep these grand challenges in mind as we go through this week. I am confident that matching the excellence of Canadian stakeholders, leadership from the high level delegations who are keenly aware of the policies, programs and assets in the Caribbean and Latin America, and resourcefulness of the ACE support teams, we can provide a path to begin to address some of the most urgent issues around these grand challenges in a win-win fashion.

For instance, connecting engineering programs with Latin American and Caribbean institutions for regional mentorship and solution driven collaboration with national, global, regional engineering societies and diaspora to support the use of transformational technologies to solve our grand challenges, and improve the generation of value added products and services in the Americas could be a good way to move forward.

In closing, let me call on us to work on grand challenges, matching assets and capabilities, follow up and expand existing and important examples of exchange programs and partnerships produced by ACE.

As Technical Secretariat of RIAC, the OAS has been delighted to collaborate with the Government of Canada and all RIAC Members to make the Sixth Americas Competitiveness Exchange a great success.

Best of luck to team Canada in the Hockey World Cup Finals.
Thank you.