The Trump administration launched an initiative Tuesday seeking to foster investment by the U.S. private sector in energy and infrastructure in Latin America and the Caribbean, describing the effort as a “complete re-calibration” of U.S. policy.
Mauricio Claver-Carone, deputy assistant to the president and senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs, told Latin American diplomats gathered at the White House that it is not as easy for the United States to marshal support for its allies because it is not a state-controlled government.
That was likely an allusion to China, which is seeking to expand its influence in the region.
China has provided more than $141 billion in loan commitments to Latin America and the Caribbean since 2005. Still, the United States was the main source of the $147 billion that the hemisphere received last year, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
“Our goal here is to let the region know we are the best of friends,” Claver-Carone said.
He said that if countries are able to offer the right business environment, the U.S. private sector has the potential to totally finance the $100 billion to $150 billion needed by the region for annual infrastructure spending.
The Inter-American Development Bank estimates the infrastructure investment gap in the region is around 2.5% of GDP. It says the shortfall hurts the poor the most because they spend more of their income on infrastructure services.
Claver-Carone said the goal of facilitating job creation and economic growth in the Americas by promoting the private sector as the primary engine of growth for infrastructure projects is a major adjustment in U.S. foreign policy.
“You have to show it not only being tough on our foes, but with the 30-plus countries that are friends, by showing them we are their best friend, and by making sure we are their choice partners,” he said.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross called on U.S. business to be more active because currently they are involved in only 2% of the construction projects in Latin America, compared to 19% by companies from Spain and 7% from China.
The Mazatlan Post