BY CHRONICLE STAFF
As the Obama Administration is still trying to find a Secretary of Commerce, the previous one receives high marks from business leaders dealing with Latin America.
"There has been no better champion for the hemisphere than Secretary [Carlos] Gutierrez," says Adrean Rothkopf, executive vice president of the Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America (AACCLA), which worked closely with Gutierrez on the campaign for approval by the U.S. Congress of CAFTA-DR and the U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement. “In both cases he was one of the heroes who carried the day,” Rothkopf says.
Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas, agrees. “It is no exaggeration to say that Carlos Gutierrez played a monumental role in advancing U.S. relations with the hemisphere during his time as Secretary of Commerce," he says. "From efforts to expand trade and investment, build North American competitiveness, and forge peaceful changes in Cuba, Secretary Gutierrez in many ways took the lead on U.S. policy efforts in the region during much of President Bush’s second term."
His knowledge of the private sector, personal and professional ties to the region, pragmatism, and basic decency made him an effective interlocutor at all times, adds Farnsworth, who worked closely with Clinton Administration secretaries of commerce Ron Brown and William Daley.
Doug Goudie, Director of International Trade Policy at the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), also has high praise for Gutierrez. "He did a great job, particularly in advancing the cause of free trade [and] advocating our allies in Colombia, Panama and Peru," he says. "The U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement had no greater friend than Secretary Gutierrez. He was a tireless supporter of the agreement. It’s a shame that it didn’t pass congress, but that’s not his fault. He had special spot for Colombia."
During his four years at Commerce he organized numerous fact-finding trips to Colombia for members of congress. "Had he spent more time down there they would have made him an honorary citizen," Goudies jokes.
Rothkopf also praises Gutierrez’ leadership on priorities such as the North American Competitiveness Council, the partnership between Brazil and the United States for launching the Americas Competitiveness Forum in 2007.
With Latin trade becoming a key issue during the second Bush administration, Gutierrez background was ideal, Goudies points out. “With Latin trade in focus the second administration, it was almost tailor-made for Gutierrez. It made for a perfect match,” he says.
Gutierrez became Commerce Secretary in February 2005 after working for 30 years at Kellogg’s, starting as a sales representative in Mexico City and ending up as the multinational's CEO and Chairman of Kellogg’s. When he was appointed to the CEO job in 1999 he became the youngest chief executive in the company’s nearly 100-year history. “Certainly his experience leading Kellogg’s before coming to commerce was a [benefit],” Goudie says.
In terms of Latin America, of course, it also helped that Gutierrez had native ties to the region and spoke fluent Spanish. He was born in Cuba in 1953 and lived there until his family fled the island when Fidel Castro assumed power in 1959. “I think his Hispanic background was a plus,” Goudie. “It helped that he spoke fluent Spanish.”
Rothkopf agrees. “Secretary Gutierrez was one of the most prominent and influential Hispanic corporate executives and was the first Hispanic Secretary of Commerce, a fact not without resonance to those of us concerned with this hemisphere,” she says.
Although Gutierrez, 55, is no longer a public servant, many of his admirers hope he will continue focusing on Latin America.
"The people of the United States are better for his service, and my only hope is that he remains very active in the region even as he begins his next chapter in life,” Farnsworth says.
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