Trumpian Opportunities in Latin America

There’s More to Seize Than Sun South of the Border

The border fence between Mexico and the United States near Calexico, California, February 8, 2017. Mike Blake / Reuters

Donald Trump’s focus on Mexico during his first weeks as president must have pleased his base. Harking back to the start of his improbable campaign, when he blasted Mexico for sending “rapists and criminals” across the border and eviscerating American industry with the “worst deal ever,” Trump railed against trade agreements in his inauguration speech, claiming that these pacts had made other countries rich at the United States’ expense. He also pledged to “bring back our border,” a reminder of his campaign promise to build a “beautiful wall” on our southern flank. In the days that followed, Trump signed an executive order to start construction of the border wall, got into a Twitter tussle with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto about who would pay for the wall, and goaded the Mexican president into canceling a scheduled trip to Washington. Trump then announced that the United States would speed up talks for a new trade deal to replace NAFTA, and last week sent Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly to Mexico to start discussions. Along the way, Trump found time to withdraw from the Trans–Pacific Partnership, which included three Latin American signatories. 

But in his haste to fulfill campaign vows, Trump has lost sight of the fact that nowhere is the United States better poised to gain more with less effort than in Latin America. To put it in Trumpian terms, the region is ripe for a deal. Under President Barack Obama, U.S. trade with Latin America boomed, growing by nearly 50 percent from 2008 to 2015. Contrary to Trump’s campaign rhetoric, the United States enjoyed a nearly $15 billion goods and services surplus with the region in 2014, the last year for which such figures are available. The U.S. surplus with Brazil in 2015 was second only to its surplus with Australia (excluding markets such as Dubai, Hong Kong, and Singapore because they serve as transit points for merchandise forwarded elsewhere). The United States

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