Likely Democratic candidate Joe Biden is making a big mistake by emulating President Trump's economic nationalism. Instead of his recently announced "Made in America" economic plan, Biden should be proposing a "Made in the Americas" future.
Expanding trade and economic ties with Latin America wouldn't just be an act of generosity toward the region, but a policy that would be in the best interest of the United States.
On the trade front, shifting U.S. manufacturing supply chains from Asia to Latin America would help U.S. companies be more competitive in world markets and would help them reduce their over-dependence on China. U.S. shortages of masks and respirators during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic showed the perils of depending almost entirely on China for critical supplies.
In addition, a Latin American economic resurgence would boost U.S. exports and create millions of U.S. jobs.
Few Americans know this, but U.S. firms exported $571 billion to Latin America in 2019, three times more than the $164 billion they exported to China, according to the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB.) Imagine how much more they could export if Latin America recovered from its current crisis.
On the immigration front, experts are predicting a significant rise in illegal immigration from Mexico and the rest of the region as a result of the pandemic.
Already, Latin America's economy is projected to fall by 9 percent this year, more than any other region in the world. And China is moving aggressively into the region, offering in recent days $1 billion in loans to Latin American countries for the purchase of Chinese COVID-19 vaccines.
But, unfortunately, instead of proposing a new trade deal for the Americas, Biden's economic platform is heavily influenced by Trump's "America First" protectionism.
Biden's website, www.JoeBiden.com, says that, if elected, he will "remake American manufacturing and innovation so that the future is made in America by all of America's workers."
His six-point economic plan's subtitles read: "Buy American," "Make it in America," "Innovate in America," "Invest in all of America," "Stand up for America" and "Supply America," the website says. It also says Biden will "Make Buy American" real and make a historic procurement investment in American products, services, supply chains and transportation of goods."
It sounds nice, and may be politically convenient in an election year, but it doesn't make sense. If U.S. companies produced all their supplies at home, their products would be unaffordable for most Americans and too expensive to export abroad.
IADB president Luis Alberto Moreno told me in an interview that this would be a perfect time to create a hemisphere-wide market. The idea has been floated in different ways during the Reagan, Clinton, and Bush administrations, and was most often discarded by leftist governments in Latin America.
But few times before has Washington had so many willing partners in the region. Brazil, Latin America's biggest country, has its first openly pro-American government in recent memory. And even Mexico' leftist populist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador recently visited the White House, ending an unusually friendly speech by saying, "¡Viva Estados Unidos de America."
"Do you want growth in the Americas, or despair in the Americas?," Moreno asked me. "If you want to have growth, you need a "made in the Americas" policy."
Indeed, many of the goods that are produced in China could be manufactured in Latin America at lower labor costs, and with the advantage of shorter transportation times.
Granted, there is an anti-free-trade sentiment in many U.S. quarters, in part because several trade agreements were oversold by past U.S. presidents in their eagerness to get them approved by Congress.
But Biden should realize that, as the recently renegotiated U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement shows, there is room for a "Made in the Americas" plan despite the current crisis. What's more, the current great recession could be an excellent opportunity to address America's competitiveness, immigration, drugs and environmental problems with a new hemispheric trade plan.
Biden should change his economic platform. A rising tide does lift all boats, and nowhere will this be more true than in the Americas.
Don't miss the "Oppenheimer Presenta" TV show at 8 p.m. E.T. Sunday on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera
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