LOS ANGELES, June 8 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced a proposed new U.S. economic partnership with Latin America aimed at countering China’s growing influence as he launched a divisive regional summit and rebuffs on the guest list.
In hosting the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, Biden sought to assure the assembled leaders of his administration’s commitment to the region despite the nagging concerns that Washington, at times, still tries to dictate to its poorer neighbors to the south.
The list of visiting heads of state and government present was reduced to 21 after Biden ruled out Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, prompting Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and several other leaders to stay away in sign of protest.
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“We must invest to ensure that our trade is sustainable and responsible by creating more resilient, safer and more sustainable supply chains,” Biden said at the gala opening ceremony.
Biden is seeking to present Latin American countries with an alternative to China that calls for increased US economic engagement, including more investment and building on existing trade deals.
However, its “Partnership of the Americas for Economic Prosperity,” which still appears to be a work in progress, stops short of offering tariff relief and, according to a senior administration official, will initially focus on “partners like-minded” who already have trade agreements. Negotiations are expected to begin in early fall, the official added.
Biden presented his plan at the launch of the summit, which was designed as a platform to showcase American leadership in reviving Latin American economies and tackling record levels of irregular migration at the US-Mexico border.
But his program has been undermined by a partial boycott by leaders upset by Washington’s decision to eliminate its main leftist antagonists in the region.
As a result, Biden found himself hosting a larger-than-normal contingent of seated foreign ministers for their national leaders as arriving dignitaries walked one by one down a red carpet flanked by a military honor guard.
U.S. officials hope the summit and a parallel gathering of business leaders can pave the way for greater cooperation as governments grappling with higher inflation strive to bring strained supply chains closer to home. by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Biden also used his speech to preview a summit statement on migration to be rolled out on Friday, calling it a “revolutionary new integrated approach” with shared responsibility across the hemisphere. But he provided few details.
Even as Biden deals with priorities such as mass shootings, high inflation and the war in Ukraine, the US official said the president is seeking to pressure the administration’s competitive goals against China with the launch of the new partnership for the region.
The US plan also proposes to revitalize the Inter-American Development Bank and create jobs in clean energy
Still, the administration appeared to be acting cautiously, aware that an initiative that promotes overseas jobs could face a U.S. protectionist pushback.
China’s challenge is clearly a major consideration.
China has widened the gap with the United States in trade terms in large parts of Latin America since Biden took office in January 2021, the data shows.
An exclusive Reuters analysis of UN trade data from 2015 to 2021 shows that outside of Mexico, the United States’ biggest trading partner, China has overtaken the United States in Latin America and increased its advantage l ‘last year. Read more
“The best antidote to China’s incursions into the region is to ensure that we convey our own assertive vision for the region economically,” the administration official said.
Biden’s aides framed the summit as an opportunity for the United States to reassert its leadership in Latin America after years of relative neglect under his predecessor Donald Trump.
But diplomatic tensions erupted into the open this week when Washington chose not to invite the three countries it says violate human rights and democratic values.
Rebuffed in his demand that all countries be invited, Lopez Obrador said he would stay away, diverting attention from US administration goals and regional divisions.
Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told reporters that some leaders’ choice not to attend reflected their own “idiosyncratic decisions” and groundwork would still be done.
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said the United States lacked “moral authority” to lecture on democracy and thanked Lopez Obrador for his “solidarity”.
Leaders from Guatemala and Honduras, two of the countries that send the most migrants to the United States, also stayed home, raising questions about the significance of the upcoming joint statement on migration.
Still, leaders from 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 take advantage of a Thursday meeting with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to talk about climate change and will also touch on the subject of “open, transparent and democratic elections” in Brazil. Read more
Bolsonaro, a populist Trump admirer who has had a cold relationship with Biden, cast doubts on Brazil’s electoral system, without providing evidence, ahead of the October election that opinion polls show him losing to his left-wing rival Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
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Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Daina Beth Solomon, Matt Spetalnick, Dave Graham, Humeyra Pamuk; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Steve Holland and Dave Sherwood; written by Matt Spetalnick and Dave Graham; Editing by Grant McCool and Richard Pullin
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