President Obama is traveling to Colombia for this weekend’s Summit of the Americas. U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue is already in Colombia at the first-ever CEO Summitt of the Americas and made the case for closer economic ties in the hemisphere:
"We have to double-down on trade all across the Americas. There is no better or faster way to create jobs, grow economies or lift people out of poverty," he said.
Already, according to the Chamber, the United States exports almost as much to its neighbors in the Americas as it does to the European Union and Asia combined.
According to Donohue, expanding the United States' trade relationship with Brazil should be a top priority. He argued that broadening the country's bilateral relationship with Brazil could improve business prospects for the region overall.
"Now is the time to start a serious conversation between the first and the sixth largest economies on Earth, two markets with a combined population of 520 million people," Donohue said.
He also talked about energy’s importance:
Our challenge, and the opportunity, is to match the resources with the capital and ensure that energy technologies, talent, and expertise can be shared in the region, so we can figure out how to do this in the most cost-effective way.
Some trade news might be made over the weekend: an announcement of the implementation of the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement.
In a preview of the summit, Shannon K. O'Neil of the Council on Foreign Relations writes about the why it makes sense for there to be plenty of discussion on trade and energy:
The recent flurry of exchanges provide a strong base for refocusing U.S. relations in the region, recognizing the importance of the hemisphere for the country's well-being. This should start with trade. Latin America today represents a good economic news story for the United States. Trade with Latin America has grown faster than virtually any other region in the world, reaching nearly a trillion dollars. U.S. shipments to its southern neighbors now total some $350 billion annually, roughly a quarter of all exports. With somewhat complementary industries and economies, expanding these sales further can benefit all sides.
Energy too provides a promising opening, not just for the economies in the region but also for shifting the fraught geopolitical balance for the better. Brazil's huge oil finds, Colombia's rising output, and the possibility of renewed exploration and production in Mexico (if the next president reforms the oil sector to allow foreign direct investment in the same manner as Brazil's Petrobras), would all benefit the United States. The hemisphere is also a renewable energy leader, with wind, solar, hydroelectric, and ethanol. If integrated, these alternative sources could further the quest for a cleaner and more competitive energy matrix worldwide.