House caucus to focus on business in Latin America

House caucus to focus on business in Latin America
© Greg Nash

The House announced Wednesday the creation of a new caucus focusing on U.S. policy toward Latin America and reciprocal investment in the region.

"Our hope is this caucus will focus America's attention south," said Co-Chairman Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.). 

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"For a long time we've seen administrations from both parties focus on regions like the Middle East," he added, "and I'm supportive of those efforts, but we're part of a region, right here, in our own neighborhood, that I think has been lacking in attention."

The Connecting the Americas Caucus, co-chaired by Reps. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) and Curbelo, aims to 

connect U.S. businesses with a presence in Latin America with members of Congress “to identify obstacles and opportunities for them to enter into the market,” while also ensuring laws and human rights “are respected,” the group said in a statement. 

“Every day, opportunities within the hemisphere go untapped and millions of dollars are lost simply because companies do not know where to begin if they want to expand into new territories and grow their business,” Cárdenas said, promising the caucus would open lines of communication and identify ways to improve the business environment.

Officials from the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB) and representatives from five Latin American companies -- two Mexicans, a Colombian, a Brazilian and a Peruvian -- delivered testimony to members of the new caucus.

Fabrizio Opertti, chief of the Trade and Investment Division of the IDB, told The Hill the main obstacle preventing multilateral investment in the Americas is a lack of information on contacts, technical requirements, access to finance and other variables that change from country to country.  

Multilateral trade has been a focus in the 2016 presidential race, with Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTop Dem: Trump helps GOP erase enthusiasm gap; Ohio a big problem The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump threatens jail time over 'treason' and 'spying' Several factors have hindered 'next up' presidential candidates in recent years MORE, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpComey: Barr is 'sliming his own department' GOP Mueller critic says Flynn contacted him during special counsel probe: report Acting DHS secretary threatened to quit after clashing with Miller: report MORE and Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) Sanders2020 Dem Seth Moulton calls for expanding cannabis access for veterans Hillicon Valley: Florida county that backed Trump was one of two hacked by Russians | Sandberg pushes back on calls to break up Facebook | Conservative groups ask WH to end Amazon talks over Pentagon contract Sanders set to become first 2020 candidate to call for ban on for-profit charter schools MORE openly opposing President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaSeveral factors have hindered 'next up' presidential candidates in recent years Lewandowski: Why Joe Biden won't make it to the White House — again The Hill's 12:30 Report: Tough questions await Trump immigration plan MORE's signature Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. 

Trump and Sanders have been especially vocal in their opposition to free trade agreements, even long-standing deals such as NAFTA.

But Latin America has opened up to trade with the United States lately, as left-wing governments have been replaced with regimes friendlier to American policies in the region. 

"Timing could not be better," Curbelo said. "We are seeing the emergence of new governments in the Americas that are interested in building a strong relationship with the United States." 

"More and more there is a realization that Mexico -- as a gateway to Latin America -- is a natural partner," Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, told The Hill. "They are societies much like ours and they want to do business with America."

Eugenio Madero, the CEO of a Mexican auto-parts manufacturer, testified before the caucus and said he knew first-hand the value of trade: "If you look at what trade has done [in Mexico] it is important. It has created jobs, it has also created security." 

Palomarez commented on the bipartisan nature of the caucus, praising its members for "focusing on things they have in common as opposed to what they don't agree on."

“I look forward to collaborating with my colleagues on solutions that will benefit our country and those in the region," said Curbelo.

Joining Cárdenas and Curbelo in the caucus are: Reps. Julia BrownleyJulia Andrews BrownleyBooker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Overnight Energy: Ocasio-Cortez rolls out Green New Deal measure | Pelosi taps members for climate panel | AOC left out | Court reviews order for EPA to ban pesticide Ocasio-Cortez: ‘I truly do not’ believe Pelosi snubbed me on climate change panel MORE (D-Calif.), Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzHouse Dems seek to make officials feel the pain Lawmakers contemplate a tough political sell: Raising their pay Top Utah paper knocks Chaffetz as he mulls run for governor: ‘His political career should be over’ MORE (R-Utah), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Rubén Gallego (D-Ariz.), Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeDems probe DOJ's handling of civil rights violations by law enforcement Reparations: The 'lost cause' of black politics? Dem lawmaker says Trump 'has in many respects become a dictator' MORE (D-Texas), Ron KindRonald (Ron) James KindDems highlight NYT article on Trump's business losses in 'tax gap' hearing Congress can retire the retirement crisis Permanence for CBMTRA is a small business win across America MORE (R-Wis.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif), Patrick Meehan (R-Penn.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), and Tim Walz (D-Minn.).