In early March, The Washington Post ran an article on pending ambassadorial nominations worldwide, highlighting the fact that political maneuvering in the U.S. Senate was stalling numerous nominations and that, by implication, U.S. interests abroad were suffering.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the Western Hemisphere, which, at the time the article was written, hosted U.S. embassies with almost half of the ambassador slots vacant. Some of these vacancies—such as in Bolivia and Venezuela—are long-standing, owing to political difficulties with host nations. Others, including in Colombia, have subsequently been filled.
Still, a disheartening number of posts remain without fully accredited ambassadors. Of these, one in particular stands out: Peru, which has been without an ambassador since Rose Likins left in September 2013.
A qualified candidate to replace her, career official Brian Nichols, was nominated on June 24, 2013, and was unanimously approved by the Foreign Relations Committee in October and again in January 2014. He has yet to be confirmed, patiently waiting longer than any other nominee for any other ambassador post worldwide.
This is particularly strange—to say nothing of the personal toll that it takes on nominees and their families—because a prosperous, democratic Peru is a cornerstone of U.S. policy in the Americas. The trade and investment relationship is strong and growing. Peru is an important economic partner with a bilateral free trade agreement and a party to the ongoing TPP negotiations. Peru is also a founding member of the Pacific Alliance, consisting of four Latin American nations pursuing a new vision of economic integration that fits comfortably within a framework of U.S. interests.
The presidents of Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru—which together represent 36 percent of Latin America’s GDP—begin arriving in Cali, Colombia, today for the seventh Pacific Alliance Summit. Spanish President Mariano Rajoy, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, and representatives from Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and Uruguay will also be attending the presidential summit on Thursday.
Members of the Pacific Alliance bloc, created last June, are focusing on decreasing trade barriers and fostering the free circulation of goods, services, capital, and people. One way it seeks to accomplish this is by making the elimination of travel visas between member-states a requirement—a sticking point that could deter Canada from becoming a member. The rapidly-growing alliance differs from other regional groups such as Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (ALBA), Mercado Común del Sur (Mercosur) and Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (UNASAUR) in that it seeks to capitalize on global flows rather than protect against globalization.
This week’s meeting marks the seventh presidential summit in two years to promote greater economic opportunities and deepen cooperation between Latin America and Asia-Pacific countries. While the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) already includes Asian members, Mexican Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergio Alcocer believes that the Pacific Alliance’s focus on bilateral trade agreements across the Pacific could open up Asian markets before the TPP.
The most controversial outcome of last month’s second CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) summit in Santiago, following close on the heels of the first EU-CELAC meeting, was the decision in Santiago to appoint Cuban President Raúl Castro to the chairmanship of the 33-member regional body.
Castro, who will be splitting the two-year term with his Costa Rican counterpart, Laura Chinchilla, could not resist several pointed remarks aimed at the United States. He decried the presence of multinational companies in the region and the U.S.’ continued possession of Puerto Rico. The 81-year-old leader’s message was clear, however:
“We are building the ideal of a diverse Latin American and Caribbean region united in a common space of political independence and sovereignty over our enormous natural resources to advance toward sustainable development [and] regional integration,” Castro said.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos described Cuba’s leadership of CELAC as a “very significant political development with special symbolism.” Though absent from the summit, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez wrote in a letter that the act told “the U.S., with a single voice, that all the attempts to isolate Cuba have failed and will fail.”
From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
VP Biden Meets with Mexican and CentAm Leaders
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Mexico and Honduras this week. In Mexico, Biden met with President Felipe Calderón, where the two discussed trade ties, illegal arms trafficking, and the decriminalization of drugs. Biden qualified that third topic as “worth discussing,” but added that “there is no possibility the Obama-Biden administration will change its policy.” Biden also met with the three main Mexican presidential candidates: Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Enrique Peña Nieto, and Josefina Vázquez Mota. Biden pledged that the Obama administration plans to work with whoever wins the July elections, a promise Bloggings by Boz’s James Bosworth calls “an important gesture in this political climate.” Shannon O’Neil writes for LatIntelligence that the meeting showed how far Mexico’s democracy has come: “A few decades ago a U.S. official meeting with opposition candidates would have caused great consternation and tension between the governments; today it is accepted and even expected.” On Tuesday, Biden traveled to Tegucigalpa to meet with the presidents of Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama. Biden addressed the challenges in confronting transnational crime and promised an additional $107 million for the Central American Regional Security Initiative.
Mexico to the United States: Let Us in to the TPP
In an op-ed for Politico, Mexico’s Secretary of Economy Bruno Ferrari García de Alba urges the United States to let Mexico enter negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free-trade agreement involving nine countries bordering the Pacific Ocean. Writes Ferrari: “Mexico’s inclusion in the TPP would be of real value to Washington—not only because it could provide an immediate boost to U.S. exports but also because increased Mexican sales to TPP markets would translate into more U.S. exports, a virtuous cycle. It would result in more jobs on both sides of the border.”
Mexico Hosts First Think-20 Research Summit
Writing for World Politics Review, the Stanley Foundation’s David Shorr reflects on last week’s Think-20, a summit held in Mexico City that brought together 22 representatives from research institutions around the world to discuss this year’s G20 agenda. The February 27 and 28 meetings were the first of their kind held in conjunction with the G20. “[T]he essential function of think tanks is to provide strategic perspective and innovative policy frameworks,” writes Schorr. “Hitching those capabilities more closely to the G20 may indeed prove helpful.”
AS/COA Online covers the Think-20 on its Mexico City Conference blog. The annual AS/COA event held in Mexico’s capital takes place this year on March 13 and will explore Mexico’s global leadership role in the context of its G20 presidency. Visit www.as-coa.org/Mexico2012 for an agenda, analysis, and to tune into the live webcast on the day of the event.
The Mexican Senate on Thursday approved the free-trade agreement (FTA) between Mexico and Peru by a count of 55 votes in favor of the legislation and 47 against. The agreement was signed by the presidents of both countries in April of this year, but stalled in the Senate due to concerns over the potential impact on Mexico’s agricultural sector.
The FTA was praised by Mexican Economy Minister Bruno Ferrari, who said that Peru is growing rapidly and “is a natural option for Mexican producers who are looking to expand their business in Latin America.” Trade between Mexico and Peru has increased 13 percent annually, from $414 million to $1.46 billion between 2000 and 2010, according to the Peruvian Trade and Tourism Ministry. The agreement offered an opportunity for Mexico to diversify its trade agenda, as 80 percent of its exports currently go to the United States.
But opponents of the bill, including Heladio Ramirez Lopez, former head of the National Peasant Confederation and president of the Rural Development Commission, warned that the FTA would threaten Mexico’s ability to export at least 30 of its agricultural products, and may create health risks for the Mexican population. If the treaty had not passed, it could have jeopardized Mexico’s participation in the Pacific Alliance, a new regional trade agreement that includes Peru, Chile, Colombia and Panama- all of which signed an agreement on April 28 to integrate trade production.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.