BY JOHN MURPHY
DEEDS, not words might be the theme for President George W. Bush’s November trip to Argentina, Brazil and Panama. The trip may serve partly as an effort to show his critics that his administration has a multifaceted strategic commitment to Latin America and the Caribbean. Bush has already traveled more widely in the region than his recent predecessors, and some of his key accomplishments — such as the new free trade agreements with Chile, Central America, and the Dominican Republic or the OAS Democratic Charter — are destined to loom larger as time passes.
At the IV Summit of the Americas in Argentina, the president is scheduling group meetings with the heads of state of the CAFTA-DR countries as well as the three Andean countries currently negotiating a free trade deal with the United States. The intent is to show that the United States is pressing forward with the goal of hemispheric integration. While job creation and poverty reduction are the central topics for discussion, some of the prominent leaders at the summit will approach these issues with a worldview that emphasizes the role of the state. Bush is certain to emphasize that free markets and free enterprise are the real engines of growth, development, and job creation.
IN BRAZIL, Bush will underscore the excellent relations his team has forged with the Lula Administration, which has been little noted by the press. The “Group for Growth” dialogue between the U.S. Treasury and Brazil’s finance ministry has usefully addressed a number of impediments to stronger commercial ties, and the two agriculture ministries have addressed problems in third country markets (e.g., soybean sales to China) with a pragmatic, collaborative spirit. Business leaders are hoping President Bush will ask for negotiations on a bilateral tax treaty. U.S.-Brazilian differences over the scope of the Free Trade Area of the Americas remain significant, but much about this burgeoning relationship is going right.
President Bush will also stop in Panama, emphasizing the warm relations between the United States and the Torrijos Administration. The two countries may conclude negotiations for a bilateral FTA in the coming weeks — perhaps even before President Bush’s visit. As Panama contemplates a $5 billion-$7 billion expansion of the canal, businesses that have viewed Panama as just another small market will be taking a second look.
Famously uninterested in the glamour of summitry, President Bush is not visiting Latin America for a photo op. He knows opinion polls indicate he is not popular in the region. But like any Harvard MBA, he wants real world results, and he may just find them on this trip.
John Murphy is vice president for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and executive vice president at the Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America (AACCLA). He wrote this column for Latin Business Chronicle.
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