US to start economic talks by partnering with 11 Latin American countries
The initiative aims to spur broad prosperity and address some of the Western Hemisphere’s toughest problems, including mass migration to the United States.
But the Association of the Americas for Economic Prosperity (APEP), which President Biden Released in June at a summit with regional leaders, it falls short of the traditional trade deals the United States has negotiated in the past.
“It’s reasonable for people to be skeptical about the real impact this will have,” said Matthew Goodman, a former White House official in the Obama administration who now works at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
APEP reflects the administration’s efforts to reconcile its desire for stronger regional ties with congressional opposition to further trade liberalization, which many lawmakers, and the president’s allied unions, blame for millions of job losses in the American industry. Biden’s advisers are seeking a similar deal, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, in talks with 12 countries in Asia.
The Latin American impulse of the administration is presented as Porcelain has significantly expanded its influence in the region. Chinese customers now buy nearly 15 percent of the region’s exports, up from just 1 percent in 2000, according to the International Monetary Fund. A total of 21 Latin countries, including eight APEP members, participate in Beijing’s global infrastructure investment program known as the Belt and Road initiative.
The United States already has trade agreements with nine of the countries that agreed to participate in the initial APEP negotiations. The APEP group includes Barbados, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, and Uruguay.
Notable absentees from the first round of talks include Brazil and Argentina, two of the region’s largest economies.
No date has been set for the start of the formal talks, although US officials said they would start soon.
“We are going to move very quickly,” said an administration official who insisted on anonymity to brief reporters ahead of the official announcement.
Rather than offer greater access to the US market, the association is designed to promote labor standards, supply chain resilience, decarbonization and recovery from the pandemic, officials said.
The administration also hopes to breathe new life into the Inter-American Development Bank, a multilateral financial institution that has been criticized for ineffective lending.
Officials briefing reporters offered few details about the partnership, describing it as a “flexible framework” that will include “high-level agreements.”
Regional officials and analysts said they were puzzled by the lack of concrete results following Biden’s comments last summer.
“Of course, we are happy to participate,” said a senior official from a participating nation. “But it is an invitation to speak. There is no proposal, for example if you compare it with… when trade agreements were negotiated. This is much more modest and limited.”
Many countries want more investment, said the official, who asked not to be quoted to be honest.
“But it’s not clear how the United States, in this highly competitive world, will push for this to happen. The Chinese are everywhere and the Europeans are very active in Latin America today,” said the official, who questioned whether the alliance meets the investment needs of the region.
The Biden administration’s proposal represents a stark contrast to previous efforts to boost US trade with its southern neighbors. In 1994, 34 nations agreed to start negotiations towards a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The agreement would have gradually reduced tariffs and other trade restrictions in a huge territory stretching from northern Canada to the southern tip of Argentina.
After the talks failed, the United States turned to negotiating smaller deals with countries like Colombia.
In a recent appearance on CSIS, José Fernández, assistant secretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment, defended the Biden administration’s approach to trade deals.
“What we’re trying to do is make new rules of the road, create rules of the road where our workers can compete, not a race to the bottom,” he said. “Our agreements attempt to establish a new global code of conduct.”
Voters will hold the administration accountable if Biden’s new trade approach ultimately favors corporate interests, according to Lori Wallach, a trade expert at the American Economic Liberties Project, a nonprofit that opposes concentrated economic power.
“It could have a huge political and political impact because millions of Americans who were criticized for trade deals rigged by previous corporations hear that this administration is creating a new trade policy to help them and that creates expectations that can turn into anger,” he said.
Unlike a traditional trade agreement, what emerges from the negotiations with the countries of the region will not require the approval of Congress. Such an executive agreement would not be legally binding and would lack the reciprocal benefits of a full trade pact, according to Goodman.
“This kind of deal doesn’t have the same kind of credibility and durability of a trade deal,” he said.