Clinton flags free trade benefits to Latin America

SANTO DOMINGO (Reuters) – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised Latin American leaders yesterday that pending US free trade deals with Colombia and Panama would power growth in the region and pledged $17.5 million for new programmes to expand economic ties.

“These investments are part of our larger commitment to generating more — and more sustainable — economic activity across our region,” Clinton told a regional economic meeting in the capital of the Dominican Republic.

“We are hopeful that Congress will act on these agreements swiftly — so workers and businesses across the Americas can seize new opportunities, create new jobs, and experience new prosperity,” she said.

Clinton’s one-day trip to join in “Pathways to Prosperity,“ a regional economic initiative, came as a US congressional committee threw its support behind the who proposed free trade deals for Latin America and a third for South Korea, setting them on course for final approval.

The three pacts are expected to boost US exports by about $13 billion, which President Barack Obama’s administration estimates will help create tens of thousands of jobs. They are being considered amid rising US concern over China, which is moving aggressively into Latin America as a rival for US economic influence.

Clinton said she was confident that Latin America, which has logged impressive growth rates despite global economic worries, would continue on an upward path but urged countries to work to ensure that growth benefits more people.

“We are poised to see a great economic growth engine powering prosperity across the region,” Clinton said. “My question is, will that growth include more and more people?”

A senior US official travelling with Clinton said the Obama administration hoped the new free trade deals would give a “bounce” to US economic ties with the region and illustrate the alternatives to President Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, which has seen its influence dimmed by declining world oil prices.

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