In Latin America, Creative Focus Could Pay Off


January 8, 2013


In an article for World Politics Review, Christopher Sabatini, Editor-in-Chief of Americas Quarterly and Senior Director of Policy at Americas Society/Council of the Americas, proposes four ways that the Obama administration can deepen its ties with Latin America: pursuing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, strengthening NAFTA, improving relations with Cuba and building a strategic partnership with Brazil over the next four years.

In Latin America, Creative Focus Could Pay Off

By Christopher Sabatini

For decades, Latin America policy specialists have lamented how the Western Hemisphere is never a priority for U.S. presidents. For all the United States’ economic and cultural ties with the region, however, America’s neighbors to the south do not face the kinds of imminent threats that tend to get a president’s undivided attention -- and fortunately so. 

But while Latin America may never, and arguably should never, figure on the list of the U.S. executive’s top concerns, several innovative pushes across the U.S. foreign policy apparatus would not only dramatically help advance U.S. relations and leadership in the region, they would also set the tone for relations for decades to come, while making sure the region never gets what many have wrongly longed for: the president’s urgent attention.

Decades of bipartisan U.S. policies promoting free trade agreements, collaboration in areas such as security, institutional reform and development, and protections for human rights and democracy today provide a strong foundation for a new kind of policy approach to the hemisphere -- one built on mutual interests that can shore up not just U.S. leadership in the region but hemispheric leadership globally. After all, the real importance of hemispheric relations extends beyond North-South issues, and affects the global economic and diplomatic power of both sides. 

In 2011, trade between the United States and Latin America and the Caribbean totaled $800 billion, with the economies to the south of the Rio Grande consuming more than 20 percent of U.S. exports. The rise of Asian economies notwithstanding, the volume of U.S.-Latin American trade is still greater than that with China for either side. More important for U.S. workers, America’s southern trade partners are buying high-end manufactured American goods. Thirteen countries, including Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Venezuela and Mexico, import more from the U.S. than from any other country, much of it in the form of goods like computers, telecommunications equipment, cars and machinery. 

At the same time, the hemisphere is also one of the most important sources of energy for the United States, providing 28 percent of U.S. petroleum imports, a position it will maintain until the U.S. fully taps its newfound wealth in oil and natural gas locked in shale. The region is important to U.S. domestic and foreign interests in many other ways as well, including with regard to immigration and illegal narcotics that are produced in, and flow into the U.S. from, the south.

The question is: How do we deepen and build on the positive ties and accomplishments? 

Read the rest of the article here.

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