MONTEVIDEO – Many foreign-policy analysts say that the United States’ relationship with Latin America is one of “benign neglect.” US officials dispute this, arguing that American companies are among the region’s largest foreign direct investors, while 11 of the US’s 20 free-trade agreements (FTAs) are with Latin American countries. And insofar as “benign neglect” might be a fair description, it is a positive one, characterized by the absence of geopolitical tension or instability in the region.
But much more could be done – especially on trade policy – to deepen US-Latin American economic relations. Since the breakdown of the Doha Round of global trade talks, the US has been involved in two major international trade negotiations.
Both proposed FTAs – the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), mainly a US-Asia initiative, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a largely US-Europe project – are far-reaching agreements. They aim to restore momentum toward an open global trade regime, including progress on contentious issues like trade in services, intellectual property rights, government procurement, and the harmonization of safety, health, and technical standards. Their participants account for 60% of world GDP. However, they do not reach all places.
Though Chile, Peru, and Mexico have also signed up to the TPP – and other Latin American countries are welcome to join it – the region’s involvement is marginal. If that is to change, the region will need to rediscover the spirit of the 1994 Summit of the Americas, where US President Bill Clinton and his Latin American counterparts set out a grand vision for the hemisphere. Their idea was to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which would allow goods, capital, and people to move freely anywhere between Alaska and Tierra del Fuego.