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Monday, April 16, 2018

Wilbur Ross is looking for friends in Latin America

Por Feco

Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce of the United States, is in Lima to convince the Latin Americans that, despite the absence of Donald Trump due to the crisis in Syria, the president considers the region as an absolute priority, much more now that he is about to explode its trade war with China.

The United States Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, received a small group of seven journalists in Lima and in each response, he showed a great distrust towards Beijing that contrasted with his enthusiasm to please Latin Americans.

Trump's right hand for business matters was "optimistic" about the possibility of signing in May a new agreement on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and explained that the political situation forces to do it now. What is curious is that it seems no other country involved has a saying on the matter. "We have left the most difficult part of the negotiation to the end. Now we are in the most difficult, but as we manage to overcome it, there is optimism. We have a reality: in June there are provincial elections in Canada; in July, presidential in Mexico; in November, [mid-term] elections in the United States. If we do not do it in the next few weeks, it will be very difficult to reach an agreement until after the elections”.

Sounds like pressure to me. “It would be very difficult for the negotiators to withstand the political burden in the middle of the campaign”, he insisted to encourage an agreement to be reached as soon as possible. Ross will be with almost all the important Latin American partners in Lima, and probably also with Mexico.

Ross, who has proven he is not afraid of the commercial war, always have made it clear that they have a very serious problem with China but none with Latin America. On the contrary, they consider trade with this region much fairer: "We believe in fair trade, but it is like a unicorn in the garden, a beautiful idea but very difficult to find. China is the most protectionist country in the world, the US is not. China and the European Union have many more barriers than us”, he stressed on the eve of the kick-off of the Summit of the Americas.

It is kind of surprising witnessing a US top official trying to sell America’s good behavior on commercial matters to Latin American partners. Why is that so? The US Secretary of Commerce discusses the idea that Beijing has won Washington's hand in Latin America, a place it has historically controlled and in which it has now also entered a dispute with the second world power, which already overshadows it in practically all the economic fronts and of geopolitical influence. "When you look at the numbers you see that there is more talk than facts. In addition, they are focused on buying raw materials, we finished products, which create much more employment. 79% of our purchases in Latin America are manufactured. We export more to the region than to China. This region is key from the economic and historical point of view for the United States”, he concluded with the clear intention of changing the image of the Trump administration in Latin America, where several countries have received with great concern their commitment to protectionism.