May 14, 2013
"If the United States and Europe are to remain competitive—economically, politically, and strategically—in this increasingly multipolar world, they must reach out to partners who share their values and can contribute to a stronger transatlantic economy. That partner is Latin America."

That's the takeaway of "The Trilateral Bond: Mapping a New Era for Latin America, the United States, and Europe," the first report of the Transatlantic Task Force on Latin America of the Atlantic Council's new Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. Co-chaired by former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar and former US Senator Christopher J. Dodd, the report argues for building an open transatlantic marketplace and initiating a stronger resource partnership through the launch of comprehensive trilateral dialogues on trade and investment and energy. The paper was launched at an event featuring Arsht, Dodd, US Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, Global Solutions chairman Arturo Sarukhan, and Fran Burwell, vice president and director of the Atlantic Council's Program on Transatlantic Relations.

The task force notes that, while Latin America has had an economic and geopolitical rebirth over the past quarter century, that fact is not recognized by the current structure of the international system. Not only have "Neither the United States nor most European governments have made the region a priority in  their recent foreign policies," but not even the most powerful countries in the region have a seat at the table at the most important international bodies.

A core premise of the report is that, "Together, the United States, Europe, and Latin America should build a stronger, more equal trilateral partnership based on a community of interests and values—this is in the economic, security, and political interests of all three." Given the difficulties with working within the longstanding transatlantic relationship that are well known to those in the Atlantic Council community, the prospect of adding a third major entity to the mix is daunting, indeed. And the notion that Latin America writ large shares values and political interests with the more established market democracies of North America and Western Europe is one that will be met with skepticism.

Ultimately, though, it's the right course of action.

On the first point, the authors argue, "While Latin America still has work to do in strengthening democratic institutions, the region has demonstrated a remarkable dedication to developing political stability and, in many cases, open economies. As other world powers emerge that may not share these same values, it is all the more crucial that North America, Europe, and Latin America* use this common ground to build reinvigorated cooperation that advances democratic principles and boosts economic and political competitiveness in a changing world economy." That is, as hard is it is to get anything through the US Senate or the EU Parliament, much less negotiate a bilateral accord between the two, the West is facing a challenge from those who oppose the values we take for granted and we should join forces with others who share them to meet that challenge.

As to the second point---and I'll admit being quite skeptical when first reading the report draft---the authors are talking about both cultural-historical touchstones and budding realities. They fully acknowledge that "Latin America" is a loose construct encompassing a diverse array of countries. Brazil is an emerging world economic power that's a player in global markets and Mexico is a major regional power; behind them are a number of middle tier players and a host of very poor ones. Likewise, while democracy and civil liberties are well ensconced in many parts of the region---astoundingly so for those of us who remember where they were three decades ago---"Countries such as Venezuela, Ecuador, and, increasingly, Argentina, have exhibited a troubling disrespect for basic rule of law and division of power. " Still, the authors point out,

Latin America has long conceived of itself as part of the Western tradition, even when rebelling against its colonizers. Independence heroes like Simón Bolívar (Bolivia), José de San Martín (Argentina), and Bernardo O’Higgins (Chile) drew on the political philosophies of the European Enlightenment and the American and French revolutionaries, and sought prosperity through free commerce rather than colonialist mercantilism. The Pan-American Union of 1890 brought together Latin American countries and the United States to address questions of free trade and law. The Latin American bloc was central to the passage of the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and more recently enshrined its commitment to liberal values with the adoption of the Inter-American Democratic Charter in 2001.

Even the executive summary of the plan for making this Trilateral Bond come to fruition is too long to adequately summarize in a blog post. Which is probably a good thing---otherwise, why convene a task force, meet for months, and write a 34-page report? The key components though include:

  • Building a trilateral transatlantic marketplace building on the ongoing TTIP negotiations, focusing especially on agricultural trade and areas where core regulatory oversight could create efficiencies.
  • Improving human capital by strengthening education and training; implementing best practices on poverty reduction and childhood development; and reducing legal and institutional barriers.
  • Managing energy and other natural resources through improving dialog, sharing best practices, and engaging in collaborative R&D projects.
  • Addressing transnational crime, particularly cross-border weapons flow and money laundering.

Realistically, because "Latin America" remains a construct rather than a unified actor, not all of these measures will immediately be undertaken on a tri-regional level. Some governments are going to be more ready than others to cooperate and others are simply going to be more worth the effort for European and North American governments. But the goal of the Latin American Task Force---and the Arsht Latin America Center more generally, is to get transatlantic readers to start including Latin America in the conversation. It's overdue.

*It's worth noting here a linguistic challenge that plagued the report authors and myself, as the after-the-fact editor: There's no clear shorthand for describing the concepts here. The task force envisions a relationship including the traditional transatlantic partners---the United States, Canada, and Europe---with the countries of Latin America. It quickly becomes tedious to write "the United States, Europe, Canada, and Latin America." Further, writing it that way would yield a quadpartite or quadrilateral bond, yet few think of the existing transatantic partnership as tripartite.  Yet, by most definitions, Mexico is part of North America and by all definitions, it's also part of Latin America, so "Europe, North America, and Latin America" is also out. So it goes.

 James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.

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