The World Affairs Council of Atlanta received a rousing endorsement from David P. Abney, the CEO of United Parcel Service Inc., during a reception for the council’s new president Charles Shapiro.
Approximately 200 council members turned out for the reception held at the Commerce Club downtown Sept. 15 where Mr. Shapiro, a former ambassador to Venezuela, was introduced.
When Mr. Abney was asked why UPS was supporting the council in the face of so many international organizations in the city, he replied that the company backed the council’s mission of providing a forum for international issues and its support for Atlanta’s development as a global center for business and learning.
He also said that he felt UPS had made “the right choice” because of the quality of the council’s staff and its close ties to Georgia State University.
Mr. Abney is currently chairman of the council. He was a founding member and a member of its board when it was established in September 2010 and he held the post of chief operating officer at UPS.
Mr. Shapiro was asked for his views on a wide variety of topics including current events in Latin America, his views about Cuba, the condition of the U.S. State Department, his support for a fair tax policy, and his strategic plan for the council.
Responding that he had only assumed his new position that morning at 9 a.m., he begged off revealing a completed strategic plan, but assured members that fund raising is to be a priority.
He also reflected on how the city has changed since he left what then was his hometown where he grew up and attended Georgia State where he received a master’s degree in education in 1977.
“When I graduated from Georgia State, it was a night school, “ he recalled, adding that only 1 million people lived in the metro area at the time as opposed to 6 million today.
In addition, he marveled at not only by how much the university had grown, but the city as well. “Where else has an interstate been moved for an airport,” he added.
Most recently, Mr. Shapiro was president of the Institute of the Americas, a think tank at the University of California San Diego.
Prior to his retirement from the State Department in 2011, he held numerous senior positions including ambassador to Venezuela and principal deputy assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere.
He also has held foreign postings in Chile, El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago and Denmark as well as Washington assignments.
“The world is our market,” he told the attendees. “The Fortune 500 companies know this, but it’s the next 10,000 companies that need to know the world is our market.”
He called Latin America a “huge” area and “hugely diverse,” providing especially good opportunities for business with Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile without discounting opportunities elsewhere in the region.
While based in San Diego, he made several trips to Cuba, which he described as being “sealed in a plastic bag since 1959.” He reminded his audience that Georgia is the largest supplier of agricultural and medical supplies to the island from the U.S.
The U.S.’s embargo, however, prevents most forms of commerce. He called for removing the embargo from Cuba’s private sector, which he said included as many a 1 million self-employed individuals, and for doing everything possible to facilitate access by Cubans to the Internet.
While working at the State Department, he said that he witnessed many changes, primarily a greater diversity of ethnic origins more reflective of the makeup of the United States as a whole. “This is hugely positive,” he added.
A former adviser to Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state, he said that during the current administration, the majority of foreign policy decisions are made in the White House and not at the State Department.
Meanwhile, the composition of the staff in U.S. embassies around the world has changed radically, he added.
He said that only about one third of the employees are from the State Department. The remainder are from other departments such as agriculture or the treasury and other agencies, even in some cases from the Library of Congress.
Both Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Abney said that they favored revisions of the current tax code with Mr. Abney strongly favoring a reduction in corporate taxes and Mr Shapiro doubting that any reform would come any time soon from the currently stymied Congress.
When asked about the emphasis by the U.S. on counterterrorism as opposed to economic development, Mr. Shapiro argued that increased trade and investment benefits all parties involved. “It’s not just a one way street,” he said.
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