Opportunities for U.S. Engagement in Latin America

Hearing on Political and Economic Developments in Latin America and Opportunities for U.S. Engagement

January 21, 2016

Testimony
Testimony by CFR fellows and experts before Congress.

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Politics and Government

Shannon K. O’Neil testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, laying out the largely positive trends in Latin America and the benefits for the United States of working more closely with countries in the region. She called for deepening integration with Mexico and Canada, and supporting the rise of homegrown anticorruption efforts throughout the region.

Takeaways

Latin America today is largely a good news story:  

  • Home to an increasing number of market-friendly economies with close ties to the United States, the region buys over a quarter of all U.S. exports, supporting tens of millions of jobs here at home. Over the last twenty-five years trade with the region outpaced that with the rest of the world, as U.S. exports to Latin America jumped sevenfold.
  • Already overwhelmingly democratic, recent political developments, from the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations to the election of Mauricio Macri in Argentina, further the potential for positive shifts in relations.
  • The region has seen a proliferation of corruption scandals. While testing government credibility in some places, this wave also reflects increasing transparency, press freedoms, civil society activism, and prosecutorial and judicial independence.

The United States should deepen its partnerships in North America, prioritize anticorruption and rule of law programs, and seek opportunities for greater bilateral and regional cooperation. Specific priorities should include the following:

  • Reduce non-tariff barriers, revise rules of origin, mutually recognize or harmonize differing regulations, expand pre-clearance and other proven programs for trusted travelers, and invest in the border infrastructure necessary to speed trade and travel.
  • The U.S. Department of State and other U.S. administration officials should consistently emphasize anticorruption as a policy priority in Latin America, increasing coordination with agencies that have tools to investigate and prosecute offenders and actively using sanctions, as well as denying and revoking visas of corrupt officials.
  • Congress should champion and fund efforts to improve judicial capacity, train law enforcement officials, strengthen and professionalize independent monitoring and anticorruption agencies, and support civil society-led anticorruption efforts. 
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