NAFTA's Role in the Americas

Article excerpt

WHEN Congress votes on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) later this year, it will be shaping the future direction of United States foreign policy toward Latin America and defining the nature of US leadership in the hemisphere. US-Latin American relations today are on a smoother course than at any time in memory. The bitter conflicts of the 1980s - over drugs, debt, and Central America - have receded. Despite recurring problems and a few setbacks, the regional trend toward democracy has been sustained. Latin American nations continue to restructure their economies along market lines and open them to international trade and investment.

Almost all countries of the region now want closer economic ties with the US. Latin American governments have also demonstrated a new willingness to cooperate politically with Washington. The main challenge for US policy in Latin America is no longer how to resolve old conflicts. It is how to take advantage of fresh opportunities.

Although hardly guaranteed to last, these favorable trends provide the basis for an enduring relationship that serves the interest and values of both the US and Latin America - including (1) the advancement of democratic practices and respect for human rights; (2) the achievement of sustained economic and social progress; (3) the need jointly to address such shared problems as environmental deterioration, drug trafficking, and refugee and migrant flows; and (4) effective cooperation in global forums like the United Nations, GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), and the World Bank.

NAFTA is the essential cornerstone of such a relationship. It is a crucial test of US interest in forging long-term, constructive ties with Latin America.

In the first instance, the ratification or rejection of NAFTA will critically affect US relations with Mexico - by far the most important US partner in the hemisphere, and one of the two or three most important in the world. …