LOS ANGELES, June 8 (Reuters) – The Biden administration on Wednesday unveiled a new plan for a U.S. economic partnership with Latin America as regional leaders gathered for a U.S.-hosted summit whose agenda was undermined by discord over the guest list.

Seeking to counter China’s growing influence, a senior administration official said President Joe Biden is offering America’s southern neighbors an alternative that calls for increased US engagement, including increased investments, strengthening supply lines and consolidating existing trade agreements.

However, Biden’s “Partnership of the Americas for Economic Prosperity,” which still appears to be a work in progress, stops short of offering tariff relief and, according to the U.S. official, will initially focus on “partners who share the same ideas” who already have commercial relations with the United States. agreements. Negotiations are expected to begin in early fall, the official added.

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Biden was expected to lay out his plan in a speech later Wednesday to formally open the summit, which was originally intended as a platform to showcase American leadership in reviving Latin American economies and tackling migratory pressures.

But Biden’s agenda has been marred by a partial boycott by leaders unhappy with Washington’s decision to exclude Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from the summit.

U.S. officials hope the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles and a parallel gathering of top business leaders can pave the way for greater economic cooperation as regional nations struggling with higher inflation strive to bring countries closer together. supply chains strained by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s much better for us (…) to have a supply chain here in the Americas than to depend on a supply chain that comes from China,” the US ambassador to the country told Reuters. Mexico, Ken Salazar.

Biden is seeking to pressure the administration’s competitive goals against China with the launch of the new partnership for the region, the US official said.

Washington, which already has a combined trade pact with Canada and Mexico, a collective with Central America and a series of bilateral agreements in the region, will try to develop new standards in customs, digital trade, labor, environment and corporate responsibility, according to the official.

The plan would also aim to mobilize investment, revitalize the Inter-American Development Bank, create jobs in clean energy and strengthen weak supply chains exposed by the pandemic.

Still, the Biden administration appeared to be moving cautiously, aware that an initiative that promotes overseas jobs could face a U.S. protectionist pushback.

CHINA’S CHALLENGE

China’s growing regional challenge is clearly a major consideration.

China has widened the gap with the United States in trade terms in large swaths of Latin America since Biden took office early last year, the data shows, underscoring how far Washington is. set back in the region.

Exclusive Reuters analysis of UN trade data from 2015 to 2021 shows that outside of Mexico, the United States’ biggest trading partner, China has overtaken the United States in Latin America and widened its advantage l ‘last year. Read more

“The best antidote to China’s incursions into the region is to ensure that we convey our own assertive vision for the region economically,” the administration official said.

Biden aides touted the summit as an opportunity for the United States to reaffirm its commitment to Latin America after years of relative neglect under Biden’s Republican predecessor, Donald Trump.

But tensions have repeatedly weighed on the preparations.

Diplomatic fissures widened this week as Washington chose not to invite communist-ruled Cuba and the left-wing governments of Venezuela and Nicaragua, arguing that their human rights and democracy records made that impossible. .

Rebuffed in his demand that all countries be invited, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he would stay away, diverting attention from Biden’s goals and toward regional divisions.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz Canel, in a televised address Wednesday morning, said the United States lacked “moral authority” to lecture on democracy at the Summit, and thanked Lopez Obrador for his “solidarity”.

“The United States has the ability to prevent Cuba’s presence in Los Angeles,” Diaz Canel said. “But he has no power to silence our voice, nor to silence the truth.”

Leaders of Guatemala and Honduras, two of the countries that send the most migrants to the United States, also said they would not go, undermining efforts by Biden officials to hammer out a ‘declaration’ on joint plans to combat the phenomenon.

Still, leaders from more than 20 countries in the region will attend, including Canada, Brazil and Argentina, organizers said.

Biden, in what is billed as a political speech to open the summit, will preview the migration statement to be announced on Friday. Officials say it will include specific commitments from leaders to help meet the challenge.

Migrant detentions at the US-Mexico border have reached record levels this year, and on Monday another caravan of thousands headed north from southern Mexico.

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Reporting by Dave Graham, Matt Spetalnick and Daina Solomon; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Humeyra Pamuk and Jeff Mason, Dave Sherwood in Havana; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Alistair Bell

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