The perception Korea once held of Latin America—of lazy workers and inefficient governments—has drastically changed today. From an entire floor dedicated to South Korean music, cuisine and clothes at a mall in Peru, to the first Korean Cultural Center in Argentina, to the United States Ambassador to Costa Rica singing and dancing to Psy’s Gangnam style, South Korea’s presence and influence in Latin America is growing. The small Asian nation has quietly but successfully flooded Latin American markets.
However, this engagement has not been mutual—Latin American governments have yet to realize that they could lose out if they do not reciprocate.
The question then is not how or when this happened, but rather why many Latin American countries have remained unenthusiastic about South Korea, a country that only 30 years ago was torn by civil war and poverty-stricken. A Korea Economic Institute of America report highlights what could attract Latin America to engage more proactively with the country, including South Korea’s capacity to counterbalance China’s hegemony. South Korea does not want to be the third Asian player in Latin America, after Xi and Abe.
Top stories this week are likely to include: G-20 economic summit in Los Cabos; Rio+20 conference on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro; the hemisphere reacts to Obama’s immigration policy shift; South Korea’s president and China’s premier embark on separate Latin America tours; and Humala’s approval hits a new low.
G-20 Summit Kicks Off in Mexico: The annual global economic and financial summit known as the Group of Twenty, or G-20, takes place today and tomorrow in Los Cabos, Mexico, after having been preceded by the B-20 business summit. The G-20 is comprised of the European Union members and 19 other major economies; together, they represent 90 percent of the world’s GDP, 80 percent of worldwide commerce and two-thirds of the globe’s population. The world will pay close attention to any developments from the summit, given the fragility of the eurozone and the apparent slowdown in China, which has led to a growth deceleration in Brazil and other economies dependent on Chinese manufacturing. AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini posits, “President Felipe Calderón has promised a major breakthrough on the economic crisis that has the world on edge. But can the G-20 really affect the deeper structural and confidence issues facing the global economy?”
Rio+20 Hits the Ground Running: Although the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, began last week, the high-level meetings take place from Wednesday through Friday after the G-20 concludes. Nearly 115 heads of state are expected to attend this environmental summit, which is the largest UN conference in history—with nearly 50,000 in attendance. However, U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be noticeably absent. Will Rio+20 produce any tangible results? Notes Sabatini: “What was once considered the starting point of global discussions over environmental issues has unfortunately become just an anniversary. To inject this forum with the importance and urgency that is necessary to change the course of global environmental issues, the United States and other developed nations need to step up—this time for real.”
The Hemisphere Reacts to Obama Policy Shift: Friday’s surprise announcement from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that the Obama administration will stop deporting young undocumented immigrants with no criminal records and who have completed some college education or military service sent shockwaves around the U.S. and beyond. While critics of the Obama administration, such as Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, derided the move as “backdoor amnesty,” the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) praised the Obama administration for answering “the prayers of families across the nation by implementing a long-awaited change to the current immigration policy.” However, some in Latin America lament the timing of the directive. La Tribuna in Honduras believes that the policy shift “arrived late” for many Hondurans, with La Opinión concurring that the Obama plan came late for “many dreamers.” Says Sabatini: “While appreciated, it’s sad that it’s taken this long to get to an issue that should have been easy three years ago. Has the immigration debate sunk so low and political opportunism climbed so high that this is the most important pro-immigration piece of policy reform that can be passed today—and clearly for electoral reasons?” AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak agrees: “The president’s executive action is a great moment for the 800,000 undocumented youth who grew up in the United States and will now be able to more fully contribute to our society. But why couldn’t this have been done in late 2010 when the DREAM Act was blocked in Congress? The beneficiaries of this policy could have been legally working without the fear of deportation for the last 18 months if action had been taken sooner.”
South Korean and Chinese Leaders to Visit Latin America: South Korean President Lee Myung-bak will attend the G-20 and Rio+20 conferences, and then depart afterward to Chile and Colombia later this week for bilateral visits. Further, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will pay official visits to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile, where he will meet with the presidents of those four countries and deliver a speech at the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) secretariat in Santiago.
Humala’s Approval Rating Hits New Low: Peruvian President Ollanta Humala’s approval rating has hit its lowest mark since he took office in July 2011, according to a new poll from the Ipsos Apoyo firm published yesterday. His approval rating stands at 45 percent while his disapproval rating is 48 percent. This is likely due to his stance on pushing forward with mining projects and invoking the emergency law to quash protests in northern Peru. Can he turn the unpopular tide? Sabatini says that “President Humala has failed to articulate how his outsider campaign and alleged commitment to social inclusion is different from his predecessors. In the absence of a defined, structured party system, Peruvian presidents are hostage to the vicissitudes of popular opinion—and this can be very dangerous.”
From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Floods Hit Central America
Rainfall of as much as 47 inches fell in Central America this week, three times the average for this month. The rains caused heavy flooding and destruction of infrastructure, resulting in the displacement of 700,000 people and a death toll of more than 90. The governments of El Salvador and Nicaragua declared national states of emergency, and Honduras declared one in its southern region. Aid from Spain, Taiwan, the United States, and Venezuela poured into the region amid local pleas for humanitarian assistance.
Guatemalan Prez Declared Fugitive of Justice
A court in Guatemala declared former President Óscar Mejía a fugitive of justice after police failed to locate him in Guatemala City. Mejía is wanted for ordering massacres of indigenous peoples during his time as military chief (1982-83) under former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt. The trial of another general facing human rights abuse charges during the civil war (1960-1996), Hector Mario López, was delayed for the third time when the general arrived sedated. Central American Politics Blog questions if these are tactics to delay proceedings until after next month’s presidential election, when a former military official, Otto Pérez Molina, may win.
Obama to Sign FTAs on Friday
The White House announced that President Obama will sign the Colombia, South Korea, and Panama free trade deals this Friday. The signing will take place in the White House Rose Garden, where the president will be joined by workers, as well as business and labor leaders.
In a blog post for Americas Quarterly, COA Vice President Eric Farnsworth explores the roles played by members of the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress in passing the long-pending free trade deals.
An AS/COA Online Congressional Update covers the legislative process behind the trade pacts’ approval.
As U.S. trade policy has returned to the headlines in 2011, much of the discussion is focused on packaging the three pending pacts (Colombia, Panama and South Korea) into one large bill or sequencing the consideration of each individual free-trade agreement (FTA). And more recently talk is centered on the impasse over Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). But less attention is on other components of the broader trade agenda awaiting congressional action, namely extension of trade preference programs.
Back in February, Republicans scrapped a House of Representatives vote on extension of the Andean Trade Preferences Act (ATPA) to protest the lack of a firm timetable for moving the Colombia and Panama FTAs. The result: duty-free treatment expired for Colombian and Ecuadorian imports. Since then, the Obama administration has pressed for renewal, even as the future of this 20-year-old program remains in doubt. Could the next renewal of ATPA be its last?
Initial ATPA participants included Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. The goal was a noble one: to encourage a shift away from illegal drug production by expanding alternative export sectors and promoting economic growth. In 2008, Bolivia was suspended from the program when the Bush Administration deemed it incompliant with eligibility criteria related to counter-narcotics cooperation, and in 2010, Peru was dropped from the list of beneficiaries following approval of its FTA with the United States.
Now, only Colombia and Ecuador are left. In Colombia’s case, the argument for one more renewal is sound. Exporters are counting on a retroactive extension that will cover tariff costs since February, and they’ll continue to need the preferences until the FTA enters into force, assuming all goes well in Congress this summer. The bigger picture is that Colombia is a key U.S. ally that deserves better than the uncertainty created by short-term extensions. The most recent ATPA renewal, in December 2010, lasted only six weeks.