One particular bit of news, which may very well pass unnoticed sheds some light on a possible future course of United States’ future foreign policy. The news is that the US Congress has reached an agreement with the White House over new free trade policy guidelines. This agreement could ease the ratification of trade deals with several Latin American countries. Under the new policy, countries with free trade deals with the US will be committed to adopting and enforcing laws that abide by basic international labour standards as well as internationally-agreed environmental standards of business practice. US deputy secretary of state, John Negroponte, said that the Latin American states are ”strategic elements not only to our economic relations but also to our political relations”.
Why is this news important? In the author’s opinion it shows that the US has decided to adopt a new tactic in what regards improving its image in what concerns foreign relations as well as a better one in what concerns efficiency. What I mean by the latter is that a foreign policy based on economic cooperation, i.e. free trade, is much more superior in terms of political returns, especially in Latin America. Latin America has seen, in the past few years, a return of leftist governments, in Bolivia, Brazil and, the most notable Venezuela. Although Washington can not compete for influence with the vocal Chavez or Evo Morales in terms of public speeches, it can counter them where they are at their weakest, in terms of economic development. It is a known fact that Venezuela as well as Bolivia have major economic dificulties in their respective countries, and that is a soft spot in what concerns the politcal impact of their speech in the whole of Latin America. Therefore, a policy of free trade (for those who do not know, it is about abolishing internal tarrifs on imports), long sought by the Bush administration, that would indeed benefit both sides is a guarantee of a larger influence of American economy and politics on Latin America to the detriment of Chavez and Morales-like practices.
It is in the US interest that Latin American countries do not follow a path to authoritarian dictatorships, as they did all too often in the past 200 years and the best path to prevent that would be a free economy. Sure, it can be argued that it is only a small step, but it is the author’s opinion that the United States has moved away from short term easy and costly solutions to foreign policy and is ready to favor a more indirect approach to foreign policy. This approach, called by some democratic peace theory, as it is assumed that a free and capitalist economy would guarantee a democratic government, had been succesfull in the European Union’s approach to the former eastern european states, altough it took around 15 years for it to work.
In conclusion, it seems that the United States has begun to renounce its power politics and hard rhetoric in favor of a more subtle yet more effective approach to foreign policy. For the first time in a while, it seems the Americans are ready to go the distance.
Andrei Cristian VLAD