Trade Pacts Helping Latin America, Caribbean

Published: Sun 9 Dec 2007 07:37 AM
Trade Pacts Seen Helping All Sectors of Latin America, Caribbean
Trade and private capital flows are important economic engines for the developing world at a time when U.S. official development assistance to certain nations is being reduced.
Jose Cardenas from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) told USINFO that the "health of the U.S. relationship" with the developing world, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean, should not be measured by aid alone. Rather, the relationship should be viewed in the "totality" of the amount of trade, investment and private flows of capital between the United States and other countries, said Cardenas, who is USAID's deputy assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Expanding on remarks he made at the December 3-5 Miami Conference on the Caribbean Basin, Cardenas said his agency seeks to help its partners in the Latin American region take advantage of the opportunities brought by free trade, investment and the transfer of remittances by foreign workers in the United States back to their home countries.
USAID continues its traditional work worldwide, which includes boosting health care and education, and bolstering the ability of nations to trade with global partners. But the United States also wants to help foreign governments take better advantage of the "demands, challenges and the opportunities of a globalized international economy," Cardenas said.
The Bush administration is putting much stock in U.S. free-trade pacts with the Americas, Cardenas said. But if developing countries in the region are not positioned to take advantage of those agreements, he said, "then we're really going to create a lot of problems for ourselves."
In his remarks at the conference December 4, Cardenas said growing trade and private investment are "the future" of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Cardenas said the U.S. free-trade pact with Central America and the Dominican Republic (CAFTA-DR) "affords a tremendous opportunity to expand trade and investment" throughout that region, as does a pending U.S. free-trade agreement with Panama. The countries of the Caribbean also are exploring opportunities for economic integration to increase productivity, open new markets and compete more effectively in the global economy, said Cardenas.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) play a key role in filling the gap where U.S. official foreign assistance ends.
Sam Worthington, president and chief executive officer of InterAction, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations, told USINFO November 28 that the key to an improved U.S. image worldwide is that America not be seen as a "bully" or "simply a military power."
Worthington, whose Washington-based group has a $5 billion relationship with USAID projects worldwide, said the United States must show it has "deep respect" for other cultures and is willing to partner with others in increasing global security and well-being.
Worthington said InterAction's member organizations manage about $11 billion in resources to help countries around the world, with $7 billion of that coming from the American people directly through donations.
NGOs, said Worthington, are often the "only face" of America in many places around the developing world. He added that "our ability [to be in those places] is enhanced and leveraged through our relationship with USAID."
The State Department's Charles Shapiro told USINFO at the Miami conference that poverty, social inequality and exclusion are the dominant issues facing Latin America and the Caribbean. The challenge for the United States and its partners in the region is ensuring that citizens there see the benefits of democracy and open economic markets, said Shapiro, who is the department's senior coordinator for the Western Hemisphere free-trade agreement task force.
Shapiro said that despite what skeptics have said, the Bush administration has been successful in persuading the U.S. Congress that American free-trade pacts with Latin America have brought "real benefits" for the region.
"What we need to do is demonstrate to our citizens that representative democracy and market-based economies work and that they will deliver results to citizens" in the Americas, said Shapiro.
Shapiro predicted that the U.S. Senate will pass a pending free-trade agreement with Peru. That measure already has been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives. But a proposed U.S. free-trade trade pact with Colombia faces more difficulty in Congress, he said, because of opponents' concerns about violence against labor unions in that Andean country and from others who are against all free-trade agreements.
Shapiro said the U.S.-Colombian free-trade pact contains the "highest labor rights and environmental standards of any trade agreement in the world."
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