There are many reasons why we must increase trade with our neighbors in the Americas, but there’s one huge one.
Forget that it’s not comfortable being the shining city on the hill if everyone else is starving. Forget that our border with Mexico could be as boring and as little a concern as the Canadian one if we trade with them and create a burgeoning middle class as we’ve done in China and India over the past decades. Forget that our biggest security threats come from unstable regions of the world, forget that our security is based on their security. Don’t ask yourself why we enrich the last remaining large communist government on the planet instead of our more desperate neighbors to the South, and which makes more sense for our well being and security.
Instead think of just this one thing and it should sell you on why we must trade more in the Americas: Every item that comes from China burns shipping diesel. Every cheap bauble burns diesel, and lots of it. Getting things from our closer neighbors would use less fuel, would put less carbon in the air. We could improve that fuel equation even more with high speed electric freight rail. It’s frankly stupid with what we know about Global Warming to freight junk across the Pacific when we could buy it much closer to home.
AS we were reminded last summer when thousands of unaccompanied children showed up on our southwestern border, the security and prosperity of Central America are inextricably linked with our own.
The economies of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras remain bogged down as the rest of the Americas surge forward. Inadequate education, institutional corruption, rampant crime and a lack of investment are holding these countries back. Six million young Central Americans are to enter the labor force in the next decade. If opportunity isn’t there for them, the entire Western Hemisphere will feel the consequences.
Confronting these challenges requires nothing less than systemic change, which we in the United States have a direct interest in helping to bring about. Toward that end, on Monday, President Obama will request from Congress $1 billion to help Central America’s leaders make the difficult reforms and investments required to address the region’s interlocking security, governance and economic challenges. That is almost three times what we generally have provided to Central America.