Stephen Harper, Stealing a March on U.S. Trade

By July 18, 2007General

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper continues his Latin American tour to great acclaim, taking advantage of the neglect of the U.S. Congress toward the region and free trade agreements with Peru, Colombia and Panama.

In Chile Tuesday, Harper gave a major foreign policy address (text), holding out Canada as a willing partner and promoter of shared democratic goals. His speech marked the 10th anniversary of the Canada-Chile Free Trade Agreement, and he discussed the expansion of ties between the two countries in financial services, science and technology.

The Economist analyzes Harper’s tour with a focus on Colombia, with a not-so-disguised rebuke of U.S. inattention.

Canada cannot hope to rival US economic and political influence in Latin America and the Caribbean, its historic “backyard”. Nonetheless, it can fill some of the vacuum that is begin created by a decline in US credibility and influence in the region, largely the result of failures in US policy towards Latin America, such as the collapse of the Free-Trade Area of the Americas initiative and, recently, defeat of an immigration law reform bill.

Nonetheless, the start of trade talks, along with Mr Harper’s friendliness to Mr Uribe, underscores what appears to be Canada’s new commitment to Latin America, and to a more high-profile role in international affairs.

Harper isn’t doing all this without political risk. The Canadian Liberals have smacked him around (news release), using weak human rights arguments to undermine his pro-trade efforts.

While Congress delays action on trade agreements to expand export opportunities and buttress our democratic allies in the region, other countries are stepping forward, showing leadership.

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