United States announces members of new economic partnership in the Western Hemisphere

Evan Vucci/AP

The Biden administration says 11 countries in the Western Hemisphere have initially signed up into the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity, in what officials called a “historic” initiative to drive economic growth and cooperation in the region.

“We view it as a historic new initiative to drive economic growth in the hemisphere, and tackle the core issues that will define the coming decades and galvanize greater economic cooperation in our hemisphere,” a senior administration official told reporters Thursday.

The group of countries joining the partnership — Barbados, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, and Uruguay — represent about 90 percent of the Western Hemisphere’s GDP and nearly two-thirds of its population. The United States has free trade agreements with nine of those countries.

The framework was officially unveiled Friday by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai during a virtual meeting with ministers from the participating countries.

“There is no region that the United States is more profoundly or personally connected to than the Americas,” Blinken said. “We all recognized that our cooperation is more important than ever as we face in our hemisphere serious challenges from COVID-19 and its economic consequences to high food and energy prices exacerbated by Putin’s war of aggression in Ukraine, to enduring problems like the lack of broad-base economic opportunity, corruption and chronic insecurity.”

Only two Caribbean countries are included in the partnership so far — Barbados and the Dominican Republic — and some heavyweights like Brazil are absent from the list. During the ministerial meeting on Friday, Barbados’ minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Kerrie Symmonds, urged for the inclusion of the Caribbean Community, a regional organization comprising 15 members, in the partnership.

Previously one senior official told reporters the framework will be “open to all countries; we’re not picking winners or losers here.”

“The focus is to work with countries that have a set of shared values and a vision for a prosperous hemisphere,” the senior official said.

The Americas Partnership was first announced by President Joe Biden last June during the Summit of the Americas, the regional gathering hosted by the U.S. and the Organization of American States.

“Working together, we will unleash our full economic potential — including boosting our competitiveness, building more resilient regional supply chains, creating quality jobs, combating climate change, and reinvigorating our hemisphere’s economic institutions,” President Biden said in a statement Friday. “We will focus on improving the lives of our peoples and growing our economies from the bottom up and middle out.”

The initiative is still in its very early stages. No significant agreements or investments were announced during the call with journalists nor the public portion of the ministerial meeting. Most significantly, there was no talk of new trade agreements between the United States and the countries in the region that do not already have one.

A second senior official said the administration has been engaging with these countries to first agree on goals for the partnership that is expected to deliver future “binding and non-binding” commitments.

Areas of potential cooperation include “the digital economy, issues like decarbonization and climate, how we can work together, the integration of supply chains, not just from the U.S. to regional perspective but also helping them further integrate their economies,” one of the officials said.

The official added that the reform of the Inter-American Development Bank to expand beyond its traditional focus on poverty reduction and infrastructure would be “central” to these efforts.