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Summit of the Americas

by Colin Robertson

iPolitics
April 12, 2018

Success at this week’s Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru should be measured by a re-commitment to liberal democratic institutions and freer trade. For Justin Trudeau the test will be to advance our trade objectives beyond NAFTA and actively support hemispheric democratization.  

‘Democratic Governance against Corruption’ is the theme of this summit. The rule of law is a basic structural challenge across Latin America. Brazil’s Oderbrecht bribery scandal – Operation Car Wash- has toppled several leaders and it has regional scope. 

Democratisation is the great achievement within Latin and Central America but is must be sustained. Presidential elections are scheduled this year in nine of the members, including the three biggest Latin America countries – Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, There is already Russian meddling in the Mexican election. President Vladimir Putin wants to discredit liberal democracy and create wedges in the US alliance system.  

Working through the Organization of American States (OAS), Justin Trudeau should offer Canadian expertise on conducting and monitoring elections. When it comes to governance, Canada’s Parliamentary Centre, helping legislatures and legislators better serve their citizens should be enlisted. With fifty years experience, it has established its global credentials as a go-to center for governance expertise.  

Hemispheric free trade remains elusive. US backing is essential but not with Donald Trump and ‘America First’.  

The Lima summit, the eighth in a regular series, will bring together most of the 35 hemispheric leaders. President Bill Clinton hosted the first summit, in Miami (1994) to boost a hemispheric free trade area stretching from Alaska to Terra del Fuego. Negotiations began but the divides proved too big. There were subsequent summits in Santiago, Chile (1998) and Quebec City (2001) and then Mar del Plato, Argentina (2005) but with the discrediting of market fundamentalism - ‘the Washington consensus’ - the appetite for closer economic integration was gone.  

Populist leaders led by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Brazil’s Lula da Silva, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Argentina’s Hector Kirchner derided the FTAA, labelling it Yankee neo-imperialism. Instead, they embraced ‘Bolivarianism’, creating their own regional trade part – Mercosur -  and development bank – Banco del Sur.  

But if the Washington consensus was bitter medicine, especially for Argentina and Ecuador, ‘Bolivarianism’ was toxic. Banco del Sur was never capitalised and populist policies resulted in corruption, impeachments and economic catastrophe.  

Venezuela, once the richest country in Latin America, is in economic free-fall. According to the IMF, the Venezuelan GDP has shrunk by 50 percent  in the last 5 years.  This economic collapse has caused untold human suffering and massive migration of Venezuelans to neighbouring countries (especially Colombia) in search of food, medicine and a future. 

Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro is ‘disinvited’ to Lima. He fails the ‘democracy clause’ established by then Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien and other leaders at their Quebec summit. Managing a post-Maduro Venezuela will be on the agenda.  Canada is invested in this effort through the imposition of Magnitsky-style sanctions against Maduro associates and involvement in the Lima Group.  

The looming Sino-American trade war will also be discussed. For most of the hemisphere, the US and China are thir biggest trading partners. These protectionist spiral and growing geo-political tensions, spelled out in a recent speech by former US Secretary Rex Tillerson,  risk significant collateral damage for the region.     

Justin Trudeau can use the summit to advance Canada’s trade agenda. With its rapidly growing middle class and younger demographics, marketing Canadian schools should be part of every conversation.   

Mr. Trudeau should establish a date for our associate membership in the Pacific Alliance with presidents Pena Nieto, Sebastien Pinera (Chile), Juan Manual Santos (Colombia) and Martin Vizcarra (Peru).  

Freer trade with Mercosur is also a Trudeau objective. If Canada can help Mercosur put its protectionist past behind it then the recent initiative should include progressive trade provisions. Advancing the environment, labour, gender, and small business is a better way to address populist discontent. 

Canada is a country of the Americas. Since NAFTA, especially with its re-negotiation, we have come to appreciate Mexico as our friend and partner.  Mexico and USA aside, there are 32 other nations whose votes we will need in our quest for a UN Security Council seat.  

We now also have a growing hemispheric web of trade agreements buttressing our commercial interests – banking and mining but now including manufacturing and infrastructure. Migration has created growing Latin diasporas, especially in our cities. Tourism and student study will bring more. Devoting sustained attention to the Americas makes sense for Canada.


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