Good evening. Thank you, Edie [Frazer], for that wonderful introduction. Congressman Rahall; Ambassador Doer and members of the diplomatic corps; distinguished university presidents; and honored guests: Thank you, all, for the warm welcome.
For more than three decades, leaders and thinkers from around the globe have come to the World Affairs Council and shared their perspectives on international challenges and opportunities. I’m honored that you invited me to follow in their footsteps. And I’m grateful for this chance to talk about the infrastructure that ties communities and countries together in the 21st century.
There is no question that we live during the age of global interdependence. Because of our commercial and cultural connections, the fates and fortunes of nations around the world are intertwined. But it’s not just common concerns about economic and national security that bring us together. In a very tangible sense, our global transportation system is the glue that makes the “global community” a community at all.
Our roadways and railways; our flight paths and shipping lanes – these are the things that keep economic growth and human progress moving forward. Sophisticated systems that make sure products get from one place to another; a passenger’s ability to buy a ticket and board a plane in Chicago and touch down in Shanghai 14 hours later – these are the advances that render borders less of an obstacle than at any prior moment in history.
Tonight, I would like to talk about how, under President Obama’s leadership, the United States is helping to strengthen this international infrastructure – and how, by extension, we’re pushing new frontiers for jobs, trade, and safety. This is a message I’ve carried to more than 20 countries – in Europe, Asia, Russia, the Middle East, and Central and South America – during the last two years. And, as Ambassador Doer can tell you, it reflects a commitment that begins right here in North America.
Canada, of course, is America’s largest trading partner. One million dollars in goods and services cross the Canadian-American border every single minute – one slice of the half-a-trillion dollars a year in bilateral trade between our two nations.
Just a few weeks ago, President Obama and Prime Minister Harper signed the “Beyond the Border” declaration. It includes the most advanced of the Department of Transportation’s bilateral partnerships. The U.S. and Canada now cooperate on measures ranging from vehicle and railroad safety standards to information-sharing about freight flows along major trade corridors. The declaration strikes a smarter balance between trade and security – ensuring that our borders are as efficient as they are protected.
At the same time, we continue building bridges with our neighbor to the north – literally. Just yesterday, I spoke with New York’s Governor Cuomo about the Peace Bridge expansion project, between Buffalo and Fort Erie. My colleagues and I are also working with Michigan’s Governor Snyder on the Detroit River International Crossing – or the DRIC – which will create 10,000 jobs immediately and carve out a new artery of cross-border commerce that will support 25,000 jobs over time. All of this represents the type of long-standing international partnerships that the Department of Transportation promotes.
Among the most successful of these partnerships is our “open skies” initiative. I consider it one of the most significant bi- and multi-lateral initiatives ever implemented. Think about it: Thirty years ago, the U.S. had zero open skies agreements. Now, we have them with more than 100 partners. As a consequence, we enjoy free trade in the international aviation sector, with only a few exceptions. We’ve revolutionized the way people travel and do business. Airlines can fly the routes that passengers want at prices the market sustains. And you can be sure that we’re working toward additional partnerships – and toward bringing even more of these benefits to the traveling and shipping public.
In this same light, take President Obama’s National Export Initiative. As many of you know, the president set the ambitious goal of doubling American exports within five years. Well, without investment in transportation, there are no exports. So, the president’s proposal to rebuild American roadways, railways, airports, and marine-terminals during the next six years will not just create tens of thousands of quality jobs in the United States; it will bolster our trading relationships with countries around the world.
Now, tonight’s gathering is the “Global Education Gala” – and education is an important ingredient in the recipe for international cooperation too. That’s why the Obama Administration is investing in the STEM disciplines – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math – so our young people can one day compete and collaborate in the industries of the 21st century. That’s why the Department of Transportation has opened the doors of our training academies to officials from almost every nation on Earth. That’s why we don’t just provide technical assistance to our friends and allies; we also share best practices and work together to develop new solutions.
One such partnership is our global campaign against distracted driving – a major priority for us at the Department of Transportation. When we think of the world’s leading causes of death – heart disease or HIV/AIDS; malaria or tuberculosis – it’s easy to forget that road crashes claim more than 1.3 million lives each year. That’s the equivalent of one death every 30 seconds. The World Health Organization projects that, by 2030, traffic accidents will climb to become the fifth leading cause of death worldwide. The Global Road Safety Partnership estimates that driver behavior – including distracted driving – is responsible for between 80 and 90 percent of all roadway accidents.
In November, 2009, I traveled to Moscow for the first Global Ministerial Conference on Roadway Safety, where President Medvedev and I issued a call to end the deadly behavior of texting and talking behind the wheel. Last spring, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Ambassador Susan Rice, and I met in New York, where the Secretary General imposed a directive barring the U.N.’s 40,000 employees from text messaging while operating vehicles on official business. This May, the international community will kick off the United Nations/World Health Organization “Decade of Action for Road Safety, 2011-2020.” We’ll be involved in one way or another.
Together, we’re making important progress. More than thirty countries – including Brazil, France, Japan, Jordan, Spain, and the United Kingdom – have passed laws that restrict drivers’ use of handheld devices. Portugal has outlawed all phone use in the driver’s seat – hand-held or hands-free. But our nations can do more if we work together. The Obama Administration and United States government stands ready to lend our experience to any country looking for ideas about how to change drivers’ minds and actions.
A little more than a century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt predicted that the United States would, one day, no longer be able to choose whether it played a great part in the world. “Fate,” Roosevelt said, “has made that choice for us. The only question is whether we will play that part well or whether we will play that part badly.”
Today, President Roosevelt’s forecast has become fact. And President Obama is deeply committed to ensuring that America plays its part well.
We’re forging coalitions that serve the world’s commercial, security, and safety interests. We’re investing in multi-modal transportation as part of a new foundation for shared progress and prosperity.
But we need all of you to do something too. We need all of you to join us. We need your continued partnership and support. We need your continued advocacy for the economic development that brings the world’s nations closer together – and that creates jobs and opportunity for all people.
So, let us pledge to continue building the infrastructure of interdependence. This is the challenge that the World Affairs Council has helped meet for 31 years. And this is the challenge that we at the Department of Transportation have truly made our own.
Thank you very much.