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ECONOMY | 10-05-2022 09:56

United States seeks to bolster Latin American economies to curb migration

Biden administration working on a proposal to bolster economies in Latin America and strengthen ties ahead of upcoming Summit of the Americas.

The Joe Biden administration is working on a proposal to bolster economies in Latin America and strengthen US ties ahead of a key regional summit the United States will host next month to help confront the challenge of fast-increasing migration.

The proposed economic framework, still in the early stages, will address issues including so-called nearshoring and supply-chain vulnerabilities revealed by the pandemic, according to people familiar with the process, who asked not to be identified because the plans aren’t public. The US has started to discuss the initiative with countries in the region, and the White House is working on ideas with the US Trade Representative’s office and the Commerce Department, the people said.

The framework would seek to set a new course for economic integration with the region and create an environment of stability to help attract private investment in countries where a lack of development and opportunities have spurred millions of people to migrate to the United States.

 

China’s role

The proposal also would counter China’s growing role in the area, where the United States’ top geopolitical rival has increased economic ties through its Belt and Road Initiative, according to the people.

The framework would boost the focus on trade and economic cooperation at the Summit of the Americas that the US is hosting for the first time in almost three decades in Los Angeles June 6-10. While summit discussion topics include the pandemic response and promoting a green and equitable recovery, the gathering is widely expected to focus on migration.

The summit comes as the number of undocumented migrants encountered at the US border surged to more than 220,000 in March, the most in more than two decades, as people leave desperate situations in countries from Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba to the Northern Triangle nations of Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, as well as US neighbour Mexico.

The Biden administration is preparing for a further surge as it ends a public-health policy based on Covid-19 concerns that has allowed the speedy expulsion of migrants crossing the border since March 2020. The administration plans to end that policy, known as Title 42, on May 23, just days before the summit.

The economic initiative would fit a Biden administration push globally to move beyond the traditional free-trade agreements negotiated by its predecessors.

In September, the administration launched the US-EU Trade and Technology Council with the European Union, with another meeting scheduled for this month. It’s also preparing to negotiate the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, or IPEF, with countries including Japan, Singapore and New Zealand.

The Latin America framework likely will be distinct from the other initiatives based on the different challenges in the region, the people said.

The White House, Commerce Department and USTR declined to comment.

The framework would provide a partial return to the trade focus of the Summit of the Americas, which was first hosted by former US president Bill Clinton in Miami in 1994 and normally takes place every three to four years.

The first gathering took place a year after the United States, Mexico and Canada had just signed the North American Free Trade Agreement. Since then, the US has signed free-trade deals with Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru.

 

Ageing pacts

The United States agreed to a Nafta replacement agreement with Mexico and Canada under demands from former US president Donald Trump, which went into effect in 2020. But its pacts with other countries in Latin America are almost all more than a decade old, and the framework would build upon those deals.

The chance for the Washington to update its trade rules with Chile and Peru was lost when Trump in 2017 withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which also included several nations in Asia.

In that sense, a Latin American framework would have a similar impetus to the deal in the Indo-Pacific, which the Biden administration is using to get more involved and set standards in areas including decarbonization and digital technologies after deciding not to join the TPP’s successor agreement reached by the 11 remaining nations.

But countries in the Americas have sometimes struggled to agree on trade issues. The first Summit of the Americas in 1994 was used to launch the idea of extending Nafta’s free trade to include Central and South America. That push collapsed in 2005 over differences including demands from leftist governments in Argentina and Brazil that the US eliminate agricultural subsidies.

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by Eric Martin & Jenny Leonard, Bloomberg

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