Washington — President Obama’s administration is working to build on recent progress expanding U.S. trade and investment ties with Latin America through partnerships that Commerce Under Secretary Francisco Sánchez says will benefit all participants.
“The goal of the United States and all our Latin American partners is shared prosperity that is built through partnership and is guided by shared ideals and values,” Sánchez said July 31 before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps and Global Narcotics Affairs.
“The future of the United States is closely linked to the futures of our neighbors in Latin America,” he said, as all “are bound by a rich and shared history, cultural ties and proximity.”
In prepared testimony, the under secretary said President Obama is “firmly committed to U.S. engagement with Latin America” and finding new ways to strengthen regional integration.
He said the region is becoming an increasingly attractive place to do business as it has recently transitioned toward greater democracy, empowering its citizens with new opportunities to succeed.
“As a result, over the past decade, millions of people have lifted themselves out of poverty and into the middle class,” the under secretary said. “This amounts to half of all households in the region, and that number could grow to three-quarters within 20 years.”
Brazil is projected to become a top-five global economy during the next five years, Sánchez said, adding that Colombia, Chile, Peru, Uruguay and Panama are also expected to achieve considerable growth during that time.
“U.S. companies should play a big part in this growth,” the under secretary said. “There are many unexplored opportunities … that businesses should seize.”
He said trade agreements with Latin America cover more than 70 percent of U.S. trade with the region, and they do more than just eliminate tariffs.
“U.S. and Latin American companies benefit from commitments that facilitate transparent rulemaking, predictable legal frameworks, strong intellectual property rights protections and regulatory certainty at home as well as in global markets,” Sánchez said.
He applauded the new U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, which took effect May 15, as a deal that will give businesses in both countries “unprecedented access” to each other’s markets.
The U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement is expected to go into force in October, and will provide similarly unfettered access for bilateral trade and investment.
Earlier in 2012, U.S. officials met with public and private sector partners from across the Western Hemisphere at the CEO Summit of the Americas in Colombia. Sánchez applauded the gathering as a “unique opportunity to strengthen old alliances, create new partnerships and identify new pathways to prosperity.”
The under secretary said that most recently, the United States and other members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership invited Mexico and Canada to join the group, a “notable milestone” intended to further integrate the region’s economy with partners around the world.
U.S. efforts to increase engagement with Latin America come as part of President Obama’s National Export Initiative, which seeks to double U.S. exports by the end of 2014. In 2011, U.S. merchandise exports to Latin America reached $347 billion. The 54 percent increase in exports to the region since 2009 far exceeded the average export growth rate of 36 percent for the rest of the world.
Sánchez said the Commerce Department is working to connect business leaders in the United States with opportunities in Latin America while also highlighting the benefits of doing business in the United States for foreign investors.