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Kamala Harris swears in Kristen Clarke in Washington

By Nandita Bose

President Joe Biden has tasked Harris with leading U.S. efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, to deal with an increase in migration into the United States. Since then, Harris has taken a series of steps to improve conditions and lower migration from the region.

During the meeting on Thursday, Harris will urge businesses to make “new and significant commitments” to boost economic opportunities in the region, said the White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The meeting will be attended by top executives from yogurt maker Chobani, food giant Nestle’s Nespresso unit, financial companies Bancolombia and Davivienda as well as language-learning website Duolingo.

Non-profits Accion and Pro Mujer, along with the Tent Partnership for Refugees and Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health will also attend.

The 12 companies will announce measures to support such efforts, the official said. For example, Microsoft has agreed to expand internet access to as many as three million people in the region by July 2022 and Nespresso plans to begin buying some of its coffee from El Salvador and Honduras with a minimum regional investment of $150 million by 2025, the White House official said.

Chobani has agreed to bring its incubator program for local entrepreneurs to Guatemala while Mastercard will aim to bring five million people in the region who currently lack banking services into the financial system and give one million micro and small businesses access to electronic banking.

The U.S. vice president’s push to spur regional economic growth will focus on six areas.

These include expanding affordable internet access, combating food shortages by boosting farm productivity and backing regional efforts to fight climate change and make a transition to clean energy.

It will also aim to expand job training programs and improve public health access.

In April, Harris unveiled an additional $310 million in U.S. aid to Central America. She is expected to visit Guatemala and Mexico on June 7 and 8 – her first overseas trip as vice president.

U.S. officials see corruption as a major contributor to a migrant exodus from the region, along with gang violence and natural disasters, issues that represent hurdles for companies investing in the region.

Some Central American leaders recently pushed back on the Biden administration’s anti-corruption strategy, which included releasing a list labeling 17 regional politicians as corrupt.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Devika Syamnath and Chizu Nomiyama)

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