BOGOTA, Oct. 14 (UPI) -- U.S. trade deals with Colombia and Panama are a timely boost to regional trade and mark a belated U.S. re-entry into an increasingly lucrative economic zone.
Latin American states are already busy trying to forge closer trade links with Europe and East Asia in various multilateral deals. Colombia is part of the Mercosur trade bloc that is negotiating a free trade accord with the European Union.
Firmer trade ties with the United States are seen as a boost to the regional nations' efforts to broaden international trade.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos praised the U.S. Congress ratification of a long-stalled free trade agreement and hoped the "historic" deal would boost Colombian business and workers. U.S. trade unions continue to oppose free trade with Colombia, citing human rights abuses in the country but basing their opposition also on fears for U.S. jobs.
"Historically, these agreements have closed American manufacturing facilities and cost American jobs," U.S. Workers International President Leo W. Gerard said in a statement.
Colombian and other South American analysts, however, said the U.S. pacts with Colombia and Panama would cut both ways to boost regional trade and stimulate sagging U.S. growth. Similar expectations mark U.S. free trade accords with South Korea.
Despite consistently high growth throughout the Latin American continent, with the notable exception of oil producer Venezuela, U.S. economic engagement with the region remains at levels before Washington's preoccupations with the wars in the Middle East almost removed it from the scene.
Colombia received $10.77 billion in foreign direct investment through September, 84 percent of it directed toward oil, gas and mining industries. FDI is also filtering down to other industries in the country, which until recently depended on U.S. military aid to help contain narcotics-related violence.
The war on drugs is far from over, but the rising levels of FDI into Colombia have been more effective than government pronouncements in promoting the country on global financial markets.
Panama too is drawing investors from Latin America and East Asia and is hoping to catch up with Brazil, Argentina and Chile, the largest recipients of FDI in South America.
President Barack Obama visited Brazil, Chile and El Salvador in March, a visit greeted with skepticism because of pressing problems in the Middle East and Libya at that time. But the tour helped rekindle regional interest in U.S. manufacturing, published economic data showed.
Experts estimated that every $1 billion of U.S. exports to Latin America could represent 5,000 jobs in the United States.
"The impressive growth that we've seen in Latin America in recent years is good for the people of the hemisphere, and it's good for us," Obama wrote in USA Today at the time of that tour.
But growing U.S. trade ties also give Latin American nations greater bargaining powers while dealing with and negotiating new commercial pacts elsewhere, in particular Europe and East Asia.
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