LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced a proposed new U.S. economic partnership with Latin America aimed at countering growing Chinese influence, at the start of a regional summit marred by disagreements and disdain over the guest list.
Hosting the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, Biden sought to reassure assembled leaders about his administration’s commitment to the region despite nagging concerns that Washington, at times, is still trying to dictate it to its poorer southern neighbors.
The lineup of visiting heads of state and government in attendance was reduced to 21 after Biden ruled out Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, prompting Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and several other leaders to turn away in protest.
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“We have to invest in making sure our trade is sustainable and responsible in creating more resilient, safer, and more sustainable supply chains,” Biden said at the opening ceremony.
Biden is seeking to offer an alternative to China for Latin American countries that calls for increased US economic participation, including more investment and building on existing trade deals.
However, the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity, which is apparently still in the works, does not offer tariff relief and, according to a senior administration official, will initially focus on the “like-minded partners” that the United States already has. commercial agreements. The official added that negotiations are expected to start in early autumn.
Biden outlined his plan when he launched the summit, which was envisioned as a platform to showcase American leadership in reviving Latin American economies and addressing record levels of irregular immigration at the US-Mexico border.
But his agenda was undermined by a partial boycott by leaders resentful of Washington’s decision to get rid of its main left-wing opponents in the region.
As a result, Biden found himself welcoming a larger-than-usual group of secretaries of state seated in front of their national leaders as dignitaries walked one after the other on a red carpet surrounded by a military honor guard.
US officials hope the summit and a parallel gathering of business people will pave the way for greater cooperation as governments struggling with high inflation work to bring supply chains stretched by the COVID-19 pandemic closer to home.
Biden also used his speech to preview Friday’s summit declaration on immigration, calling it a “new, integrated, innovative approach” with responsibility-sharing across the hemisphere. But he gave few details.
Even as Biden tackles priorities like mass shootings, high inflation and the Ukraine war, the US official said the president is seeking to press the administration’s competitive goals against China by launching the New Partnership for the region.
The US plan also proposes revitalizing the Inter-American Development Bank and creating clean energy jobs
However, the administration appears to be moving cautiously, realizing that the initiative that promotes jobs abroad could face US protectionist opposition.
Obviously, the challenge from China is a major consideration.
The data showed that China has widened the gap in the United States in terms of trade in large parts of Latin America since Biden took office in January 2021.
An exclusive Reuters analysis of United Nations trade data from 2015-2021 shows that outside of Mexico, the United States’ largest trading partner, China has overtaken the United States in Latin America and increased its advantage last year. Read more
“The best antidote to China’s invasion of the region is to make sure that we deliver our positive vision for the region economically,” the administration official said.
Biden aides portrayed the summit as an opportunity for the United States to reassert its leadership in Latin America after years of comparative neglect under his predecessor, Donald Trump.
But diplomatic tensions erupted this week when Washington chose not to invite the three countries, which it says are violating human rights and democratic values.
Lopez Obrador rejected his demand to invite all countries, and said he would stay away, distracting from the US administration’s goals and toward regional divisions.
Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told reporters that some leaders’ choice not to attend reflects their “own decisions” and that substantive work will continue to be accomplished.
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said the United States lacked the “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 immigrants to the United States, also stayed home, raising questions about the significance of the upcoming joint immigration declaration.
However, leaders of more than 20 countries, including Canada, Brazil and Argentina, are attending the summit hosted by the United States for the first time since its inaugural session in 1994.
Biden will use Thursday’s meeting with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to talk about climate change and will also discuss the topic of “open, transparent and democratic elections” in Brazil. Read more
Bolsonaro, a populist Trump admirer who has had cold relations with Biden, raised doubts about Brazil’s voting system, without providing evidence, before the October elections, that opinion polls show he lost to his leftist rival Luis Inacio Lula da Silva.
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(Reporting by Trevor Honeycutt, Dyna Beth Solomon, Matt Spitalnick, Dave Graham, Humira Pamuk; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Steve Holland and Dave Sherwood. Writing by Matt Spitalnick and Dave Graham; Editing by Grant McCall and Richard Boleyn
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