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Good morning. We're extremely pleased to have you here today. Indeed, I get the opportunity to welcome you to a ground breaking of sorts. This is a ground-breaking in cyberspace rather than in the physical world. Today, we're launching SIMnet, an Internet based-system that is designed to support real time measurement intercomparisons.
For any of you who have ever participated in international measurement intercomparisons, you know that when you use the approach of sending your measurement work pieces from lab to lab, that a full round robin intercomparison can take two years, easily. Often you'll discover in the middle there was something you didn't take into account, and you have to start again.
The efficiencies that should arise from this Internet based-approach should be extraordinary, and the ultimate beneficiaries of SIMnet, we believe, will be exporters and importers, the international airlines, the companies that service the airlines, and anybody that participates in international trade, which obviously includes consumers.
Now everyone should be very excited about what we're inaugurating here today, but I suspect only the people who are here will ever even notice. In a sense, that's a good thing. If we succeed and we fulfill all our expectations for SIM and SIMnet, maybe people shouldn't notice. Measurement systems are usually embedded pretty deeply in our technical infrastructure.
In a sense, they're like breathing. And like breathing, you don't think about it unless there's an impairment. Unless there's a problem. So breathing is to the body what a measurement system is, if you will, to industry, and commerce, and science.
The Department of Commerce, through NIST, is developing SIMnet, in cooperation with the Organization of American States. On behalf of its 34 member nations, the OAS is orchestrating the development of the InterAmerican Metrology System, which is what we call SIM, and you can see the Spanish statement of that on the board.
We're fortunate to have with us today several officials from the OAS I'd like to welcome especially Dr. Sitoo Mukerji, and he is the Executive Secretary of Science and Technology. I'd also like to welcome all the other OAS representatives who have joined us here today. In addition to that, I'd like to welcome the distinguished Ambassador from Trinidad and Tobago, Ambassador Michael Arneaud, as well as representatives from the embassies other nations participating in the pilot of SIMnet.
We're also honored to have with us today the directors of the National Metrology Institutes that are collaborating in the pilot, many of them old friends of mine. I'm delighted to see them here.
Later, by means of SIMnet, you'll meet some of the staff of the NMI's. They've been at NIST now for several days to test drive the system, and I fervently hope it works today. Computer systems, new ones, have a way of letting you down. For the record, I'd like to name all the countries that are participating in SIMnet: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, and the United States.
Together we're embarking on an effort to help create a global measurement system with the capability, the speed, the flexibility that's required by the new economy.
In today's globalizing economy, trade and commercial exchange are becoming the life blood of many nations. Increasingly our economic destinies are linked, and the strength of these links will depend greatly on the quality of the technical infrastructure that supports the economic cooperation.
So, in December 1994--and I know some of the people in this room participated in this -- the leaders of 34 American nations committed to creating the Free Trade Area of the Americas by the year 2005. The commitment was born of an even deeper commitment, the desire to improve the lives of citizens in all of our democracies, and to do this through free and open trade.
A rule of thumb is that a billion dollars of exports is the equivalent of about 12,000 jobs. In contrast, trade restrictive-activities have shown in the long run to cost jobs and to lower wages. So even the current financial stress on our region and on the world shouldn't deter us from building the technical infrastructure that we'll need to collaborate and to compete against other economic regions of the world.
The Free Trade Area of the Americas would be the largest of these regional efforts in the world. The combined gross domestic products of all of our countries, the 34 nations, is $10 trillion. In all, there's 755 million people living in the Americas.
So last March, at the Fourth Americas Business Forum in Costa Rica, U.S. Commerce Secretary Bill Daley challenged both the governments and the business leaders. He said, "there are steps that we can take now to smooth out the bumps that make commercial exchange more difficult. And also we can take steps to ensure that business is conducted in the most efficient manner."
The ministers of all our member nations, many of them at least, have issued similar challenges, and they're telling us, the National Measurement Institutes, to get on with it, to make the kind of progress that's necessary to support these collaborations, and to do it soon.
SIMnet is a cooperative initiative that responds directly to these challenges. Measurement standards are kind of generic tools. They're used widely by industry. They support all kinds of custody exchange in the marketplace. To the outside observer, a nanometer's a nanometer, a watt's a watt, two parts in a billion are just that.
So what is there to worry about here? The truth of the matter is that we know through experience that measurements are often a fertile ground for arguments in trade disputes. A gear manufacturer's nanometer may turn out to be somewhat different than the nanometer that's measured by a product certification lab in another country.
These differences in measurements and lack of equivalency among national measurement systems can delay and even block trade. In fact, these types of problems and technical barriers are becoming, in most people's minds, greater deterrents to trade than tariffs.
Let me use a borrowed analogy to sort of illustrate this further. If I have one watch, I always know what time it is. If I have two watches, I'm never quite sure what time it is. The truth is, there is no perfect measurement. My friend and deputy Robert Hebner is going to explain later why measurement comparability and traceability are so important.
In global commerce, it's safe to say that millions and millions of measurements are performed daily, and business, government, and the private sector all need measurements they can trust. And that's what SIM and SIMnet are about: enabling reliable, high quality measurement capabilities for the entire western hemisphere.
We're doing it by leveraging information technology. Together we are working to change the way we do business, and that includes the business of international metrology, for the better. By exploiting the opportunities of these modern technologies, we help, we intend to help all of the countries of the Americas, the largest and the smallest. We're going to build a world class measurement system that allows our countries to compete with Western Europe, with Japan, with the rest of the world.
So with that, I'd like to once again thank the OAS for its support of SIM, and our partners for their participation in the pilot of SIMnet, and I'd like to turn the podium over to Dr. Situ Mukergi, from the OAS.