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Free Trade Without the US

SANTIAGO – How should Latin America respond to US President Donald Trump’s America-first approach to the global economy? Here’s one possible answer: build a free-trade area of the Americas without the United States.

Of course, the idea is far from new. The founding fathers of Latin America’s republics talked about it two centuries ago. But it never came to pass.

In the 1960s, there was much discussion about Latin American integration. Summit meetings were held and agreements signed. But little progress on free trade followed. For most countries in the region, Europe or the US remained larger trading partners than their immediate neighbors.

In the early 1990s, then-US President George H.W. Bush grandly proposed a free-trade area from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. The US subsequently signed agreements with Canada, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Central America, but the ambitious and overarching north-south agreement did not materialize.