The diverse economies of Latin America have made significant progress recently, even in light of the recent concerns of economic downturn, said Luis Alberto Moreno, the president of the Inter-American Development Bank at a Center for American Progress event yesterday. There is “cause for cautious optimism” as the Americas look to the future, said Moreno, but there is “no place for complacency” on issues of trade, development, and inter-American relations.
President Moreno’s keynote speech was followed by a panel discussion on the United States’ relationship with Latin America, moderated by Dan Restrepo, Director of the Americas Project at the Center for American Progress.
Moreno and the panel both addressed the fact that as Latin American economies continue to grow, countries in the region will continue to seek a more significant role on the world scene. Moreno cited an average growth rate of 5 percent per year in Latin American economies, as inflation has remained at a moderate level and unemployment has decreased for the past four years. Foreign direct investment in the region has increased to $125 billion USD for the past year, and the governments of Mexico and Brazil are dramatically increasing public spending.
This economic success, according to panelist Leonardo Martinez-Diaz, Political Economy Fellow for the Global Economy and Development Program at the Brookings Institution, has spurred the desire for political influence internationally. The government of Brazil, for example, is looking to “have more voice and more vote from the IMF to the UN Security Council,” he said, as they work to bridge the divide between developing and developed countries.
But the rosy economic picture doesn’t tell the full story. Despite the “overall climate of growth,” panelist Michael Shifter, Vice President for Policy and Director of the Andean program at the Inter-American Dialogue said, there is also “enormous discontent and governance problems” in the Andean region. Drug trafficking and production continue to be significant issues, particularly as violence and multinational gang membership have increased through the past decade. Shifter also spoke to the need for the United States to take more responsibility for solutions to this problem by addressing demand issues at home.
Immigration concerns also continue to strain U.S.-Latin American relations, particularly in light of last year’s failure to move comprehensive immigration reform legislation through the U.S. Senate. Furthermore, concerns about the performance of the U.S. economy have made global economic interdependence a heated issue, especially as the Panamanian and Colombian trade deals await congressional consideration. Growth, “a global problem and a global phenomena,” said Shifter, continues to affect both existing and potential trade agreements, raising serious questions about future free trade negotiations.
As the Americas face the coming year and the changing of U.S. presidents, the region’s key concerns include immigration, trade agreements, personal security, and expanded growth and prosperity. Moreno argued that prosperity can best be achieved through increased competitiveness, especially in the areas of food production and alternative energy, areas in which Latin America is particularly competitive. Martinez-Diaz advocated building U.S. soft power in Latin America while building institutions with transparency in order to empower citizens. Adrean Scheid Rothkopf, Managing Director for North and Central America and the Carribean at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., promoted a continuation of trade negotiations, saying that despite the contentious tone the debate sometimes takes, the agreements were “widely accepted by countries” in Latin America.
Regardless of specific policies, the panelists agreed that U.S.-Latin American relations will continue to improve over the coming years if issues of immigration and trade can be discussed openly and fairly within the Americas.