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A Mistake to Overlook Latin America’s Role in Today’s Trade Negotiations | Commentary

This is a pivotal year for global trade policy. Two huge deals—namely the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership —have the potential to dramatically redefine the nature of the global economy and reinvigorate global growth. Congress has an important role to play as these negotiations move forward.

Conventional wisdom is that both agreements are primarily transatlantic and trans-Pacific accords, but Latin America is in many ways the center of their convergence. Overlooking this would be a mistake for negotiators.

Given longstanding disagreements at the WTO, these regional agreements offer the opportunity to reinvigorate international trade and investment and to create more US jobs. Over 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside our country, and trade is our best tool to sell them more products and services. Since 2009, the number of U.S. jobs supported by trade has jumped by nearly 2 million to over 11 million jobs and counting. The two mega-regional trade agreements being negotiated today would also open the door for the United States to help set high labor, environmental, investor protection, and product safety regulations that would then become global gold standards.

Congress should debate and adopt a Trade Promotion Authority bill that endorses the United States’ robust trade agenda and explicitly encourages US negotiators to consider the impact of TTIP and TPP on third countries. Congress should insist that our important Latin American trading partners be given preferential access to these agreements, provided they meet the standards set out in the treaties. TPA lets trade negotiators do their work while ensuring that Congress’ voice is heard—all while maintaining vital congressional oversight and the right to approve or reject the ultimate deal.

TTIP negotiations are intended to lift the economic boat for both the United States and the European Union. But the effects of TTIP extend much further than that. Both the United States and the European Union have more free-trade partners in Latin America than in any other region in the world, and 10 Latin American countries have free-trade agreements with both the U.S. and the EU. Add in the fact that the United States is Latin America’s top trading partner, and the European Union is number two, and it becomes increasingly clear how new standards negotiated as part of TTIP must be done to ensure that they are building blocks for the trade agreements we already have in force.

As the U.S. continues talks across the Atlantic, we are also looking across the Pacific with Canada and three Latin American countries (Mexico, Peru, and Chile). More details on the TPP chapters must still be shared, but here, too, Congress would miss an opportunity to not look at Latin America’s broader importance to the success of the United States’ Asia pivot.

Still, more needs to be done to encourage growth and cooperation throughout the Western Hemisphere on trade policy.

A new Atlantic Council policy brief sets out a new framework for considering Latin America’s position in global trade. Most importantly, it recommends concrete actions that would ensure these new trade deals promote a broader level of international economic cooperation.

For example, Canada and the four Pacific Alliance countries (Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru) should be priority candidates to join TTIP once it is concluded between the US and EU. After all, Alliance members account for more than half of all Latin American trade and are highly integrated into the global economy. Members have FTAs with countries representing almost 75 percent of the world economy.

Negotiators should work to ensure that mutual recognition agreements and rules of origin requirements are streamlined to encourage inter-regional trade and investment flows. And, the U.S. and EU should redouble their efforts to bring Latin America’s largest economy, Brazil, into the game by reinvigorating free trade talks with Mercosur.

Last month, negotiators met and made significant progress on both TPP and TTIP. The fact that both agreements are moving forward in tandem reinforces their potential, and underlines the fact that, in the absence of a concerted effort to ensure compatibility, there is a serious risk of setting up divergent trade regimes. An actively engaged Congress, via passage of strong Trade Promotion Authority legislation, will help ensure that America’s trade and economic policy boosts competitiveness, creates jobs, and raises standards both at home and worldwide.

As the United States continues to break exports records, Congress should encourage and welcome the strengthening of the international trading system. Other countries are moving boldly and swiftly ahead with their own trade agendas. Quite simply the United States cannot afford to fall further behind its neighbors and allies.

Jason Marczak is deputy director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council. Garrett Workman is the associate director of Global Business and Economics Program at the Atlantic Council.