October, 2010

Latin American Chambers Honor Ex-President Uribe

By Kathleen C. Barclay
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U.S. Chamber President and CEO, Tom Donohue, with Colombia’s former President, Álvaro Uribe.

The Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America and the Caribbean held its 43rd annual meeting in Washington, DC on October 4-6 to review progress in the region and prepare for future challenges. AmCham director Kathleen Barclay and Nora Balzarotti, the Chamber’s Head of Research, represented AmCham Chile.

Representatives of the 23 AmCham delegations discussed the region’s main issues with Washington thought leaders including former Senator Mel Martinez, Thomas “Mack” McClarty who worked as Chief of Staff to President Clinton, and Moises Naim of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as well as with leading government officials including the State Department’s Arturo Valenzuela and Walter Bastian from the Commerce Department.

The highlight of the conference was a luncheon in honor of former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. Ex-President Uribe joined David Rockefeller, ex-President Ricardo Lagos, Thomas McClarty and others in receiving the “Eagle of the America,” AACCLA’s highest award, for his leadership in promoting free trade in the region. The U.S. Chamber President and CEO, Tom Donohue, gave a speech in honor of AACCLA’s newest Eagle.

A key topic was the deteriorating security situation around the continent with particular focus on Mexico and Venezuela. Regarding Venezuela, while there was some optimism after the victory of opposition candidates in recent elections, a word of caution was expressed in terms of expecting any changes through the democratic process – particularly given the external parties including Iran, Russian arms dealers, drug traffickers and money launderers, which have vested interests in maintaining the existing regime.

There was also frustration expressed regarding the lack of progress on key trade issues including the Colombian and Panamanian FTAs, as well as the trucking dispute involving Mexico. Most recently, the lack of enforcement of U.S. FTA labor and environmental conditions in Guatemala and Peru, respectively, has also arisen as a point of contention.

On a more positive note, many countries in the region are experiencing strong growth having come through the recent global economic turbulence in relatively good shape and with strong democratic institutions. Chile, Colombia, Peru and Brazil were mentioned in this category. There was particular interest in Brazil which recently held its first round of presidential elections. There are significant hopes that Brazil can play a leadership role on the world stage and that the new government will meet key challenges, particularly those related to maintaining fiscal discipline.

No meeting in Washington would be complete without a discussion of the upcoming mid-term congressional elections in the U.S. and what that might mean for the region. AACCLA members were joined by Dan Meyer of the Duberstein Group and Nicholas Thompson of the Tarrance Group for this conversation. 

The consensus was that a strong result in favor of increased representation for the Republican Party in both houses of Congress would most likely result in Republican control of the House of Representatives and sufficient numbers to have more control over the legislative agenda in the Senate.

The implications of this for Latin America are not yet clear. The new Republicans that are expected to come to Washington in January do not have a unified vision on international affairs and trade. Rather they will be elected based on their domestic focus on the economy, the size of U.S. government and the need for fiscal discipline. There is concern that some of these new members will view trade as a limit on sovereignty for the U.S. 

Only time will tell if Congress will make the connection between increased integration with the region and more jobs for U.S. citizens. AACCLA, the U.S. Chamber and AmCham Chile will be working to make sure that connection is crystal clear.

Kathleen C. Barclay is past chair of AACCLA, a past president of AmCham Chile and chair of bUSiness CHILE’s Editorial Committee.