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Will Biden’s Proposed Latin America Deal Seek to Repair Past ‘Free Trade’ Failures?

For Immediate Release: June 9, 2022
Contact: Matt Groch, mgroch@citizen.org +1 (603) 560-0847

In an address to the Summit of the Americas today, President Joe Biden announced the launch of a new economic proposal called the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity (APEP) to deepen economic ties in the hemisphere, and the White House stated its intent to hold initial consultations with governments in a number of areas of focus, including making more resilient supply chains, creating clean energy jobs, advancing decarbonization and biodiversity, and ensuring sustainable and inclusive trade. Thus far, few details have been shared about the “sustainable and inclusive trade” goals beyond previous statements that they will be “building on the foundation established by our free trade agreements in the region.”

Melinda St. Louis, Global Trade Watch director at Public Citizen, issued the following statement:

“President Biden’s announcement of this new Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity raises a number of questions.

“While it is a laudable goal to ‘address the inequality and lack of economic opportunity and equity’ in the region, whether that can be achieved will depend on the details of the negotiating objectives, as well as the negotiating process. As we asked with respect to the recently announced Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, how will the administration implement a transparent process with oversight from the public and Congress to ensure that Big Tech and other corporate interests do not turn this into another corporate-dominated,wildly unpopular trade exercise like the doomed Free Trade Area of the Americas or Trans-Pacific Partnership?

“Any effort to ‘[build] on the foundation established by our free trade agreements in the region’ must take into account how those agreements have panned out for workers in the U.S. and abroad. After more than a decade of the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement, the region has experienced hardship for workers and farmers, corporate attacks on health and environmental laws, and political instability leading to deplorable human rights conditions.

“Despite continued and pervasive violence against labor unionists in Guatemala and failure to enforce labor laws in Colombia as supposedly required under its free trade agreement, no enforcement actions have been taken. Meanwhile, U.S. companies have shamefully attacked legitimate policies to protect health and the environment in the region, using highly controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanisms in these past agreements, which the Biden administration has insisted will not be included in any future FTAs.

“If the Biden administration is serious about pursuing ‘worker-centered trade policy,’ then any new economic deals in Latin America must first aim to repair the damage from these past agreements, including by renegotiating those deals to build on the innovative labor enforcement mechanisms in the USMCA, removing damaging ISDS terms, and inserting binding climate measures.”