logo logo

With economic integration on their minds

Trinidad and Tobago Express

With economic integration on their minds

By Andy Johnson

12 January 2009

Making hemispheric Economic Integration work for all. This is one of the aspirations spelled out in the report of the Partnership for the Americas Commission, a grouping of leaders from across Latin America and the Caribbean, which is linked to the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

Their report, dated November 2008, sets out a kind of blueprint for the scripting of a new relationship between the incoming Obama administration in the US and the rest of the region. It is titled Rethinking US-Latin American relations-A Hemispheric partnership for a turbulent world.

Billie Miller, the former Barbados foreign minister and deputy prime minister, is a member of the Commission. It is chaired jointly by Ernesto Zedillo, former president of Mexico, and Thomas R Pickering, former under secretary of state for political affairs in the US.

Expanding opportunities for all through economic integration is priority item number three among four major focus areas in which the Commission has found what it says is the promise for a new hemispheric partnership. It recognises "a new window of opportunity" for advancing related goals, with the coming of the Obama administration which takes office after his inauguration on January 20.

To protect its credibility, the report says, the US Congress should move swiftly to approve free trade agreements initialled with the governments of Colombia and Panama. It should then de-emphasise the bilateral approach to trade negotiations, and move again to multilateral arrangements.

In this context, it raised the issue of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a project close to the heart of the Trinidad and Tobago government, which has not given up campaigning to be the host country for the FTAA Secretariat.

But the Commission report acknowledges that the FTAA has stagnated because, among other considerations, there has been "growing scepticism in Latin America about its benefits." Trade agreements in the region have become unpopular, it adds, "largely because they have been oversold." But, it says, "trade has brought considerable benefits to the region."

The report makes the point that US companies have nearly US$200 billion invested in the region, most of it concentrated in Brazil and Mexico. There are some 18,000 US companies operating in the region. It also calls on the US to "redouble efforts to pursue a successful conclusion to the Doha Round of multilateral negotiations," and to strive for a deal that includes meaningful agricultural reform. It should also address legitimate concerns of US workers through more effective investments in social safety nets and education.