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2005 Corporate Conference Welcoming Remarks

Speaker: Richard N. Haass, president, Council on Foreign Relations
March 10, 2005
Council on Foreign Relations


Corporate Conference
New York, N.Y.

Click here for all transcripts and audio from the 2005 Corporate Conference

RICHARD HAASS: Good afternoon. I’m Richard Haass and I’m lucky enough to be the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, so let me first off simply welcome everyone in this room to the Council. And let me, in addition, to saying how happy I— and how pleased we are, to see you here today. Let me also broaden that to say how pleased we are and how appreciative we are of the support and the interest you show us the other 364 days of the year.

I want to welcome you in particular to this Corporate Conference. And the good news is that this is not a one-time thing; to the contrary, we are committed to making this not only good this time around, but we will also commit to making this good next time around. This is going to become an annual event and one of our priority events of the year here at the Council. So I look forward to seeing all of you not simply over the next 24 hours, but also over the next 24 years.

Let me say a few things about the Corporate Program here, which again is one of our priority undertakings. I’ve now been here for about 20 months, and as soon as I got here I decided that this would be one of the things we would focus on most, and the reasons are twofold. One is, it’s good for us, obviously, to get people from— with your experience, to get people with your concerns, with your issues, and your interests, into the Council, [which] inevitably and inherently enriches and expands our debate and our consideration. Indeed, I think one of the features that most distinguishes this organization is that the corporate community, the business community, is not simply an appendage, it’s not simply there for support— not that there’s anything wrong with support— but it’s actually part the intellectual fabric of this institution, and for that we are most thankful.

Secondly, I’d also like to think that there’s something in this for you in addition to corporate citizenship, though, again, as [comedian Jerry] Seinfeld would say, not that there’s anything wrong with corporate citizenship. You all operate in a context, and the context is obviously one in which security concerns, political concerns, political/economic concerns shape fundamentally the world and the situation that you all operate in. And if there are ways in which what it is we say, what it is we write, what are the speakers we’re able to attract here, if there’s ways in which we can contribute to your understanding of the context, if there’s ways in which we can shape that context, I think that this is something that very much contributes to the interests of your particular enterprises.

Let me just throw out a few other things that right now we are working on, which might be of particular interest to you. One is, we have commissioned a new volume on trade policy. We have what’s called the Critical Policy Choices series, and what these are is, we take issues where often it’s impossible to broker a national consensus, and what we do is we ask someone or -ones to put together a volume which portrays the various approaches or perspectives on a particular issue. We most recently did it on the question of global climate change. We’ve now asked [inaudible] to do it on the question of trade. And what we have found is that these volumes have tremendous impact. The last one alone [Climate Change: Debating America’s Policy Options] was looked at and used by more than 500 professors around the country. So it’s a way of influencing the larger debate in classrooms, in universities, also in communities, and that’s what we hope to do with this volume on trade policy.

So at the same time that we focus on the traditional elites in Congress, U.S. [inaudible], and elsewhere, we’re also trying to use the convening power of the Council and to use our ability to reach people to essentially broaden the debate in this country about U.S. trade policy. Obviously, the timing is not accidental, coming as we reach the final months and years of the effort to get a Doha agreement.

We’ve also got a big project coming to closure on the issue of reform in the Arab world; political reform, also economic reform. In this case, we’ve asked former Secretary [of State] Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State, as well as former Congressman Vin Weber [R-Minn.] to put together a bipartisan group that will essentially pronounce upon the issue of what the United States and others can do to assist this process of political, economic, social, educational change throughout the Arab world, and this Task Force will be reporting this spring.

Next week you will see a different Task Force report. This is one that we’ve done with Mexico and Canada. It’s actually a group of Canadians, a group of Mexicans, and a group of people from this country, led on the American side by former Governor Bill Weld [R-Mass.]; including on the American side, among others, Carla Hills, former U.S. trade representative. And this group is— first the chairman, and then in the future, the full group, will be basically setting out an agenda for the future of North America, essentially calling for new security and new economic arrangements in North America. In this case, it’s being done in the run-up to the summit being held later this month between the— among, rather, the Mexican and American presidents and the Canadian prime minister.

Lastly, we’ve got a new big project, an omnibus project on the issue of American competitiveness: what is it the United States needs to do to maintain its competitive position? And this obviously involves not simply what you might call narrow considerations— things like property protection and so forth— but also, we’ll get into questions of education, get into questions of homeland security, visa questions, how one balances concerns about our ability to do business economically with our ability to maintain our security and other concerns. And this will be something that will be an ongoing open-ended process over the next couple of years.

Now a word or two about the conference itself. I’d like to think that you are in for a treat. It’s an impressive lineup of speakers. It’s an impressive lineup of panels this afternoon, beginning with this lunch and then stretching through the afternoon. The subject will be trade, and the people you’re going to be hearing from in the next couple of hours— I can’t think of a more authoritative, a better-informed collection of people than we’re going to be able to learn from this afternoon.

Then tonight we thought we would give the platform to an aspiring young economist, a guy named Greenspan. [Laughter] We thought we would give him a chance to try out some of his ideas. So Alan will be the dinner speaker, so all your questions or all your concerns about movements of dollars, interest rates, and the rest will be addressed.

Then, tomorrow morning, we will have a session on geopolitical risk where, unfortunately, you’ll have to hear from me again, but also I think one of the finest people in the field, [Newsweek International Editor] Fareed Zakaria. So we’ll do a session on geopolitical risk. We’ll also have a session dealing with such issues as energy challenges and the dollar. We’ll basically have one of our world economic outlook sessions to wrap it all up.

I really do think it’s an exciting program, and I’d like to think that it’s fully representative of what it is, again, we try to do here the other 363, or 364, days a year.

Let me just quickly thank the people who made this possible. Not simply the chef, but David Kellogg, who heads our Corporate Program so ably. David’s a senior vice president here at the Council; Jacqui Schein, who works closely with David and actually directs the program; Kira Burns, the associate director; and Tara Madeiros, who’s the program associate there. I would also like to thank publicly here and acknowledge the hard work of our meetings programs to put together a conference. You all know; you do it yourselves— conferences don’t put themselves together, people do. And the people here— Stacy Malacos, Francesco Barbacci, Siobhan Devine, Meaghan Mills, and others who coordinated the various sessions….

Again, let me just say how pleased we are to see you here. I look forward to having a chance to have conversations with as many of you as possible over the next day or so. We’ve built in some time, as they say, for networking. It will not be all work. And, again, welcome and thank you, again, not simply for being here, but for all that you do for us. [Applause]