Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs talks free trade.
by Bertha Velasquez
Jose W. Fernandez, assistant secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs was in Denver last Thursday to serve as the keynote speaker at the World Trade Day 2012 Conference. La Voz had the opportunity to talk with him about free trade and its affect on the U.S. economy.
“I was very impressed with the level of commitment to foreign trade and the interest of the Denver community that attended the event,” Fernandez said. He also expressed his “great appreciation for the Spanish heritage in Colorado — it’s a fascinating state.”
“You know, Colorado exported more than 7 billion dollars of net goods,” he said speaking about Colorado’s agriculture trade.
Fernandez insisted that trade is a valuable point when it comes to improving the state of the economy not only at the state level, but nationally. “We believe exports can be a powerful tool to create jobs…this is a critical piece in economic recovery.”
La Voz spoke with the assistant secretary about Colorado’s agriculture exports. Recently, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar led a trade delegation to Mexico to discuss greater agriculture exports from Colorado to Mexico.
“Well, agriculture is one of the brightest parts of the export picture,” Fernandez said.
The U.S. takes part in several free trade agreements one of which is the Colombia free trade agreement, which was implemented on May 15. Fernandez said this type of agreement “liberalizes agriculture products and basically called for all agriculture products to be duty free in a certain period [of time].”
Fernandez also spoke about the South Korea free trade agreement, which he said exports became 80 percent duty free, this past March 15, when it took effect. “That FTA basically eliminated or phased out tariffs from Korea, exports to the U.S. by value.”
Both the Korea FTA and Columbia FTA, he said, will help to increase U.S. agriculture exports. “Almost two thirds by value of our exports to Korea will become duty free as a result of the FTA,” he said.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is an agreement among Canada, Mexico and the United States, which has removed or reduced trade restrictions. Arguments in favor and against the agreement have been evident since before it was officially implemented in 1994. Critics point to levels of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and impact on workers rights.
“We believe that NAFTA has been a great success. You look at the level of trade between these two nations (Mexico and the U.S.) and its increased tremendously for both,” Fernandez said.
In April, Fernandez traveled to Libya on a trade mission. “We opened the doors for a number of our companies; we think we helped them open the door so to speak,” he said.
Fernandez reflected on his first trip to Libya in 2010 prior to the revolution. He noted the absence of U.S. companies in the country and the presence of many others from the international community.
“If we are able to get our companies in Libya,” then the U.S. and Libya can build and strengthen their relationship he said.
La Voz asked Fernandez, who is originally from Cuba, what has been most rewarding for him in his current position. “This has been a dream come true,” he said. He said that because of his position, he is able to help developing countries throughout the world, or as he put it, “helping out our own people.”
Fernandez was nominated to his current position by President Barack Obama and was later sworn in 2009. He has been honored because of his financial prowess many times and is considered one of the top attorneys in finance. Fernandez obtained his bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College and earned his J.D. from Columbia University School of Law.