US unveils new economic plan for Latin America at dissent-ridden restart summit

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LOS ANGELES, June 8 (Reuters) – The Biden administration on Wednesday unveiled a new proposal for a U.S. economic partnership with Latin America as regional leaders gathered for a summit in Los Angeles whose agenda was undermined by the discord on the guest list.

Seeking to counter China’s growing influence in the region, a senior administration official said President Joe Biden is offering southern neighbors an alternative that calls for greater US engagement, including more investments, strengthening supply lines and consolidating existing trade agreements.

However, Biden’s “Partnership of the Americas for Economic Prosperity,” which still appears to be a work in progress, stops short of offering tariff relief and, according to the U.S. official, will initially focus on “partners who share the same ideas” who already have commercial relations with the United States. agreements. Negotiations are expected to begin in early fall, the official added.

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Biden was expected to outline his plan in a speech Wednesday to open the summit, which was designed as a platform to showcase American leadership in reviving Latin American economies and tackling record levels of irregular migration at the US border. -Mexican.

But Biden’s agenda has been marred by a partial boycott by leaders upset by Washington’s decision to exclude Communist-led Cuba and the leftist governments of Venezuela and Nicaragua.

U.S. officials hope the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles and a parallel gathering of business leaders can pave the way for greater cooperation as governments battling higher inflation strive to bring people closer to home. supply chains strained by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s much better for us (…) to have a supply chain here in the Americas than to depend on a supply chain that comes from China,” the US ambassador to the country told Reuters. Mexico, Ken Salazar.

Even as Biden deals with major priorities such as mass shootings, high inflation and the war in Ukraine, the US official said the president is looking to pressure the administration’s competitive goals against China with the launch. of the new partnership for the region.

Washington, which already has a combined trade pact with Canada and Mexico, a collective pact with Central America and a series of other agreements, will try to develop new customs, digital trade, labor, environmental standards. and corporate responsibility, according to the official.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told business leaders at the summit there remained “tremendous challenges” to creating a positive environment for investment, citing “everything from regulatory frameworks to corruption”.

Biden’s plan would aim to mobilize business investment, revitalize the Inter-American Development Bank and create jobs in clean energy.

Still, the administration appeared to be acting cautiously, aware that an initiative that promotes overseas jobs could face a U.S. protectionist pushback.

CHINA’S CHALLENGE

China’s challenge is clearly a major consideration.

China has widened the gap with the United States in trade terms in large parts of Latin America since Biden took office in January 2021, the data shows, underscoring just how far behind Washington is in the region.

An exclusive Reuters analysis of UN trade data from 2015 to 2021 shows that outside of Mexico, the United States’ biggest trading partner, China has overtaken the United States in Latin America and widened its advantage l ‘last year. Read more

“The best antidote to China’s incursions into the region is to ensure that we convey our own assertive vision for the region economically,” the administration official said.

Biden aides touted the summit as an opportunity for the United States to reaffirm its commitment to Latin America after years of relative neglect under Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.

But diplomatic tensions erupted into the open this week when Washington chose not to invite the three countries it says violate human rights and democratic values.

Rebuffed in his demand that all countries be invited, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he would stay away, diverting attention from Biden’s goals and toward regional divisions.

Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One that some leaders’ choice not to attend reflected their own “idiosyncratic decisions” and that groundwork would still be needed. accomplished.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, in a televised address, said the United States lacked “moral authority” to lecture on democracy and thanked Lopez Obrador for his “solidarity”.

The leaders of Guatemala and Honduras, two of the countries that send the most migrants to the United States, also said they would not go, undermining efforts by American officials to draw up a “declaration” on joint plans to combat mass migration.

Still, leaders from more than 20 countries in the region will be present, including Canada, Brazil and Argentina.

With Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ruled out, Biden is expected to speak by phone with opposition leader Juan Guaido, Sullivan said. Washington recognizes Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president, after dismissing Maduro’s 2018 re-election as a sham.

Biden will take advantage of his meeting with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to talk about climate change and will also address the subject of “open, transparent and democratic elections” in Brazil. Bolsonaro, a populist admirer of Trump, has had a cold relationship with Biden.

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Reporting by Dave Graham, Humeyra Pamuk and Matt Spetalnick; Additional reporting by Daina Solomon, Trevor Hunnicutt, Jeff Mason, Steve Holland and Dave Sherwood; written by Matt Spetalnick and Dave Graham; Editing by Alistair Bell and Grant McCool

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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