WITA Webinar: CAFTA, Trade and Immigration




On April 14, 2021, WITA discussed the efforts to modernize the US-Central America trade relationship, including to help address the current immigration crisis at the U.S. Southern Border.

Welcome: 9:30 AM (US/Eastern)
  • Kenneth Levinson, Executive Director, WITA
Remarks and Panelist Discussion: 9:35 AM
  • Beth Hughes, Vice President, Trade and Customs Policy, American Apparel & Footwear Association
  • Matt Rooney, Managing Director, The Bush Institute
  • Maria Sierra, Policy Advisor, Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D.
  • Patrick H. Ventrell, Director, Office of Central American Affairs, U.S. Department of State
  • Moderator: Kellie Meiman Hock, Managing Partner, McLarty Associates
Followed by:
  • Q & A with Audience – Webinar attendees are encouraged to use the Q&A function on the Zoom app to submit their questions in real time.


Beth Hughes is the Vice President, Trade and Customs Policy at the American Apparel & Footwear Association. Beth is responsible for supporting the association’s efforts on international trade and customs issues. Beth oversees AAFA’s Trade Policy Committee, as well as AAFA’s Customs Group. Before joining AAFA, Beth served for six years as senior director, international affairs at the International Dairy Foods Association.
Beth earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science at George Washington University and received a Master of Arts in international affairs from Florida State University.
Matthew Rooney is the Managing Director at The Bush Institute. Matthew joined the Bush Center in June 2015 following a career as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State. As head of the Bush Institute’s Economic Growth Initiative, Mr. Rooney has focused on analyzing the impacts of NAFTA on the growth, job creation and competitiveness of the economies of the United States, Canada and Mexico. His work has also focused on building a network of thought leaders in Central America committed to promoting economic policy reforms to put that region on a sustained and broad-based growth track. The Economic Growth Initiative has produced a significant body of work analyzing the benefits of immigration for U.S. economic growth and promoted common-sense reform at the federal level. Under his leadership, the Bush Institute has developed a partnership with the SMU Department of Economics to produce analysis and advocacy on domestic policy constraints on growth.
In his Foreign Service career at postings in Washington and abroad, Mr. Rooney focused on advocating market-driven solutions to economic policy challenges in both industrialized and developing countries, and on protecting the interests of U.S. companies abroad.
In Washington, Mr. Rooney was on loan to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to create a high-level private sector advisory body for the Summits of the Americas, working closely with the U.S. private sector and with companies and business associations from throughout the Americas to negotiate an agenda to promote economic integration in the region. Previously, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary responsible for relations with Canada and Mexico and for regional economic policy. In prior Washington assignments, Mr. Rooney worked for then-Senator Fred Thompson, and supported negotiations to open global markets to U.S. airline services.
Abroad, Mr. Rooney was Consul General in Munich, a Consulate General providing a full range of Consular and export promotion services, supporting a permanent presence of 30,000 U.S. forces in two major base complexes, and carrying out a media and public relations initiative in support of U.S. diplomatic objectives in Germany. As Counselor for Economic and Commercial Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador, El Salvador, he laid the groundwork for free trade negotiations between the United States and the five countries of Central America, and promoted market-based reforms for electrical power. Prior to this, Matthew served in various posts in Germany, Gabon and Côte d’Ivoire.
Matthew studied Economics, German and French at the University of Texas at Austin and received his Master’s Degree in International Management at the University of Texas at Dallas.
Maria Sierra, Policy Advisor for Senator Bill Cassidy, is responsible for foreign affairs, trade, immigration and defense. In addition to handling the issues under her portfolio, in her role as a Senate staffer she is in charge of strengthening the relationships between Louisiana and Latin America from a trade and security perspective. 
Prior to joining the Senate, Maria worked for the Guatemalan Embassy. She was the lead on legal and immigration affairs and provided assistance in trade and congressional matters. Maria also worked for a law firm in Guatemala City, mainly dealing with international clients. 
Maria earned a law degree from Guatemala and an LLM from Law from George Washington University Law School.
Patrick Ventrell is the Director of the Office of Central American Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. He is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Counselor. Since joining the State Department in 2003 he has served at the U.S. Embassies in Bogota, San Salvador, Baghdad, Santiago and twice at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York.
From 2008-2011 Patrick was Deputy Spokesperson for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York. He joined the Bureau of Public Affairs at State Department Headquarters in 2011 as Director of the Office of Press Relations. From 2012-2013 Patrick also served as Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Department and was a regular briefer at the State Department Daily Press Briefing.
From 2013-2015 Patrick served on detail to the National Security Council Staff at the White House as a Director of Communications and National Security Council Deputy Spokesperson.
He served as the Economic and Political Counselor at U.S. Embassy Santiago from 2015-2018. From 2019-2020 Patrick was Director of the Officer of Western Hemisphere Programs in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) at the State Department where he oversaw a $500 million foreign assistance budget and INL programs in 24 countries. Patrick joined the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs as Director of Central America Affairs in December 2020.
Patrick has a Bachelor of Science degree from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He is also distinguished graduate of National War College at the National Defense University, where he earned a Master of Science degree in National Security Strategy. At the National War College, Patrick was also recognized for his scholarship and leadership with the Commandant’s Theodore Roosevelt Award as top graduate in his class and with the George Kennan Strategic Writing Award. Patrick is originally from Billings, Montana, and lives in the Washington, DC area with his wife and three children.
Kellie Meiman Hock, Managing Partner, is responsible for external matters for McLarty Associates. In addition, she founded the Brazil & Southern Cone practice and has led McLarty’s trade practice since 2000. During this time, Ms. Meiman has helped major multinational companies in Latin America and beyond to take advantage of opportunities, as well as to troubleshoot obstacles to market access and investment. She has worked on various aspects of national industrial policies, ranging from local content requirements to data localization and trade remedies.
Ms. Meiman has been deeply engaged in companies’ efforts to manage uncertainty in the trade agenda and recent renegotiations of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS). Ms. Meiman previously worked at the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) as Director for Brazil and the Southern Cone, where she had primary responsibility for trade negotiations with Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. Prior to her work at USTR, Ms. Meiman served as a foreign service officer with the US Department of State, where her posts included handling crisis management in the State Operations Center. An Economic Officer in the foreign service, Ms. Meiman previously had served in Porto Alegre, São Paulo, and Recife, Brazil, and in Bogotá, Colombia.
She has lived and studied in Central America and Japan. Ms. Meiman is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Inter-American Dialogue. She is Chairwoman of the Chile-based development NGO América Solidaria US. Ms. Meiman often writes and speaks on policy matters related to trade, Brazil, and Latin America. A native of Omaha, Nebraska, Ms. Meiman is a graduate of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. She fluently speaks Spanish and Portuguese and is active in policy and politics at the national level and in the Commonwealth of Virginia, where she resides with her husband Jim and their two sons.
Kenneth Levinson is the Executive Director of the Washington International Trade Association (WITA). WITA is Washington’s largest non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to providing a neutral forum in the U.S. capital for the open and robust discussion of international trade policy and economic issues. WITA has over 4,000 members, and more than 170 corporate sponsors and group memberships.
Previously, Ken served as Senior Director for Global Government Affairs for AstraZeneca. Prior to joining AstraZeneca, Ken served as Senior Vice President and COO at the Washington, DC consulting firm of Fontheim International. Ken started his career on the staff of U.S. Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, where he served as the Senator’s chief advisor for international trade, tax, foreign policy, and national security.
Ken received a Master’s degree in European History from New York University after doing his undergraduate work at the University of Massachusetts, in Amherst. Ken also spent a year studying at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Ken and his wife, the Reverend Donna Marsh, live in Bethesda, MD, with their two daughters.