The third Summit of the Americas, which begins in Quebec City on April 20 — this Summit of "La Gran Familia" of the Americas — has special significance. It is the first meeting of the heads of state and government of the region's democracies in the new millennium and thus an auspicious occasion to reflect on our shared accomplishments and to renew our shared resolve to meet the challenges of the future.
There are many accomplishments to celebrate. The 1990s was a period of dynamic growth and transformation in the Americas. The embrace of democracy and free markets took steadily deeper root, laying a foundation of common values as well as a self-conscious resolve to pursue common causes. One of the centerpieces of that resolve has been the Summit of the Americas process, begun in Miami in 1994 and renewed in Santiago, Chile, in 1998. At these meetings we have jointly developed a hemispheric agenda of shared prosperity and inclusiveness that puts the needs of people — some 800 million of them — first. We have committed ourselves to negotiate a Free Trade Area of the Americas — a historic accommodation that will benefit all nations, big and small. And we are working together on a broad range of pressing challenges, from advancing respect for human rights and the rule of law to broadening access to quality education and health care; and from deepening respect for the rights of indigenous peoples to promoting gender equality and alleviating poverty and discrimination.
None of these are easy tasks. But we are also expressing our deep confidence in the dynamism and creative energy of our peoples by undertaking to increase our economic integration. Canada is one country that knows full well the benefits that can flow from trade liberalization — the value of Canadian trade with Latin America and the Caribbean has nearly trebled in the past 10 years. And the benefits do not stop there. With our partners and friends in the hemisphere, we understand the connection between freer trade, prosperity and social progress. We also recognize that to achieve lasting prosperity we must do more to promote equality of opportunity, protect our environment and create conditions in which the rights of workers are respected and the benefits of growth may be more equitably shared.
The hemisphere's cooperation on social issues is already producing results. Canada has supported the work of the Pan American Health Organization in implementing its measles-eradication strategy and has worked with hemispheric partners, especially in the Caribbean, to strengthen national plans to fight HIV/AIDS. Yet this is only a beginning. It is clear that in addition to celebrating and savoring the incredible diversity of the Americas, we must continue our efforts to ensure that all our citizens can achieve their full potential and have their rightful voice and role in the development of our respective societies.
The Summit of the Americas agenda is unprecedented in its breadth and boldness. It envisions social and economic progress on a vast, hemispheric scale. Fortunately the information revolution has put the technological means at our disposal to assist us in achieving our objectives: to facilitate new human connections, enhance participation in democratic institutions and processes, expand economic opportunities and deliver government services. All we need is the will to ensure that the capacity of new and emerging technologies to bridge vast distances, expand access to knowledge and increase economic productivity is shared equitably and extended throughout the hemisphere.
I speak often of the Americas as una gran familia, a great family. We are, after all, related through our experiences in this hemisphere, by our painstaking struggle to build shared institutions and by our shared vision of a prosperous and democratic future. Like members of any family, the peoples and countries of the hemisphere face challenges that will surely test us. And like members of a true family, it is the depth of our commitment to common values and purposes that gives us strength and makes it possible for us to go forward and to develop and prosper together.
At the Quebec City summit, leaders will endorse practical measures to improve the quality of life for all citizens throughout the Americas and deepen cooperation on a coherent political, economic and social agenda. This vital undertaking is one in which we are involved not solely for our own benefit but for that of future generations. The undertaking is not to be feared but grasped. It calls for vision and engagement and a spirit of confidence — the spirit of Quebec City — in our ability to shape a better, brighter future together.Jean Chretien is the prime minister of Canada