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August 22, 08

NEWS / Next U.S. President Unlikely to Alter U.S. Latin America Policy

State Department’s Shapiro, Shannon extol value of free trade for region
By Eric Green
Staff Writer

Atlanta -- The next U.S. administration, whether led by Democrat Barack Obama or Republican John McCain, will offer continuity in American policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean, State Department official Charles Shapiro tells America.gov.

Shapiro, State’s senior coordinator for the Western Hemisphere Affairs Free Trade Task Force, said the U.S. vision for the region will remain one of “more prosperous, stable countries, with inclusive, representative democracies with open economies delivering the benefits of good governance to their citizens.”

That vision for the Americas is a consistent, historical U.S. goal, and will remain important for the next administration, which takes office January 20, 2009, Shapiro told America.gov at the August 17-19 Americas Competitiveness Forum in Atlanta.

Shapiro said every new U.S. administration reviews American policy around the world, and “obviously there will be some changes” in that policy “depending on who gets elected, and who’s appointed the next secretary of state.”

The new administration will make “changes in nuance and emphasis but I’m confident that the broad shape of U.S. policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean will remain within the parameters” followed by previous American presidents over the last 30 years, he said.

Asked to respond to criticism that the U.S. government is disinterested in Latin America and the Caribbean, Shapiro said the region is “my top priority. It’s what I work on every day of the week all around the year and it’s a place that we have received tremendous support” from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Bush.

Emphasizing that point, Shapiro said Bush has visited Latin America “more than any other president of the United States in the history of our nation.”

In addition, Shapiro said, U.S. free-trade agreements negotiated with such countries as Peru, Colombia and Panama are the Bush administration’s way to help them achieve “additional growth and thereby create jobs … reduce poverty, and move their countries forward.”

Regarding any potential U.S. free-trade agreement with Venezuela, Shapiro said Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez already has spoken out against trade pacts with the United States.

“I don’t see any interest” on Venezuela’s part for a free-trade agreement, especially since “Venezuela’s Number 1 export -- petroleum -- already enters the United States duty-free,” Shapiro said.
He added that Venezuela is a major trading partner of the United States and “we have long and historic ties with the nation and the people of Venezuela. A large number of Americans live there and a large number of Venezuelans live” in the United States.


The State Department’s Thomas Shannon told America.gov that the United States has signed free-trade agreements with an “unbroken string of countries from the Arctic to the Antarctic. We share the key goal of ensuring that open markets and open societies are also prosperous societies where poverty is in retreat.”

“While there are protectionist forces” in the region, the “Western Hemisphere continues to open its markets, build on its strengths, and develop broader networks throughout the world,” said Shannon, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

Mexico and Chile in particular, Shannon said, “have pursued ambitious free-trade agendas, achieving market openings throughout the Western Hemisphere, as well as in Asia and Europe. We want to ensure the benefits of trade spread to all.”

But, he said, the U.S. Congress’ delay in approving free-trade pacts with Colombia and Panama “hurts U.S. exporters by denying equal market access.” American businesses, he said, have paid about $1,190,000,000 in tariffs to Colombian customs authorities since the United States signed the Colombia free-trade agreement in November 2006, tariffs “that would have been eliminated under the agreement.”

Shannon said the Americas Competitiveness Forum, part of a process launched by President Bush at the 2005 Summit of the Americas, helped the United States work together with leaders of the Latin American region to “share best practices in renewable energy, tourism, trade logistics and alliances in business and education.”

Shannon said that through public-private partnerships, a key subject that he discussed with other participants at the Atlanta forum, “we can pool our efforts toward tackling the most critical challenges in the region, including fostering greater educational opportunities. This is particularly important in a region where more than half the population is under the age of 24.”

Under the public-private partnership rubric, Shannon said he discussed with his colleagues in Atlanta “finding ways to better link the needs of businesses” to Latin American and Caribbean university systems.

One example of a successful public-private alliance, Shannon said, is Entra 21, now operating in 18 countries in the Latin American region. He said that in five years, Entra 21, which receives support from the U.S. government, has provided information-technology training to more than 19,000 disadvantaged young people aged 16-29.

More information about Entra 21 is available on the Web site of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

See also “Forum Encourages Latin American Colleges to Add Business Courses,” “Public-Private Partnerships Maximize Development Assistance” and “Free Trade Boosts Americas’ Competitiveness in Global Market.”

Tags: secretary of state,


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