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Hakim: Free Trade Not On the Agenda

The Colombia and Panama free trade agreements may pass within the next two or three years, Peter Hakim predicts.


After 17 years as president of  the Inter-American Dialogue, Peter Hakim is handing over the reigns to Michael Shifter next month. During his time he has built The Dialogue into an influential group on Inter-American affairs and earned a reputation as a leading expert on U.S.-Latin American relations, especially in terms of increasingly controversial trade agreements. In this interview he talks to Latin Business Chronicle about his future plans, his proudest achievements at The Dialogue and his outlook on free trade with Latin America.

Latin Business Chronicle: What is your greatest achievement as president of the Dialogue?

No question. It was bringing Michael Shifter to The Dialogue. I was also pleased to have helped persuade [former Brazilian president] Fernando Henrique Cardoso and [former Chilean president] Ricardo Lagos to take on the role of The Dialogue’s Latin American Chair, and [former US Trade Representative] Carla Hills to serve for so many years as the U.S. chair. They have provided The Dialogue with extraordinary leadership, visibility, and credibility. On the program,  our greatest success has been to gain a wide audience for high quality and balanced analyses of the key issues in hemispheric affairs. It is not that everyone agreed with everything we wrote, but we were able consistently to provide an alternative to the ideological and partisan approaches that have tended to dominate diagnoses and recommendations regarding Inter-American relations.


Which Latin American (ex) president that you have worked with at the Dialogue has impressed you most and why?

Hard for me to choose between
Lagos and [Cardoso]. Both have exceptional conceptual and analytic skills, wide knowledge of regional and global issues, a commitment to reason and logic, a capacity for leadership in a great variety of situations, and extraordinary temperaments. Neither ever gets angry or complains. They are two of the most agreeable people with whom I have ever dealt.  

What are your plans after retiring as president?

No big plans yet. I will continue to write and hope to have time to do more writing and better writing.

How would you compare the
U.S. congressional climate on free trade today compared with when you became president of the Dialogue?

I became president in 1993 when NAFTA got more than a 100 democratic votes. Free trade is not on the congressional agenda today—and doesn’t appear to be on [President Barack]  Obama’s agenda, either. I am still hopeful -- although not really optimistic -- that free trade might get another chance once we emerge from the economic storms. But don’t hold your breath. No one in congress seems to want to vote on trade.


Will the Colombia and Panama FTA ever pass?

I am hopeful that Obama will see this as a commitment that should be honored and will find a way to make in happen in the next two or three years. It is true that
Colombia could be more helpful than it has been. It still is not giving sufficient to democratic concerns over human rights and other issues. But it is the administration that should take the leadership on this.  

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