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 ClintonHow to stand out in the crowd: Kirsten Gillibrand needs to find her niche Ex-Clinton aide: Dems should make 2020 'about integrity' Trump mounts Rust Belt defense MORE, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHow to stand out in the crowd: Kirsten Gillibrand needs to find her niche Countdown clock is on for Mueller conclusions Omar: White supremacist attacks are rising because Trump publicly says 'Islam hates us' MORE and Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersHow to stand out in the crowd: Kirsten Gillibrand needs to find her niche Biden, Sanders edge Trump in hypothetical 2020 matchups in Fox News poll O'Rourke tests whether do-it-yourself campaign can work on 2020 stage MORE openly opposing President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaWhat should Democrats do next, after Mueller's report? Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez's engagement win Obama's endorsement Pence lobbies anti-Trump donors to support reelection: report 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.

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