Political South America MapTrade policy has been at the top of President Donald Trump’s agenda since he began his campaign for the U.S. presidency.  Last month, he signed an Executive Order officially withdrawing the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, a megaregional trade deal between the United States and eleven trading partners in the Asia-Pacific region.  President Trump’s actions effectively terminated the TPP deal, but only mark the beginning of a broader shift in U.S. trade policy that is expected to follow. 

President Trump’s trade policy priorities also include renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), prioritizing bilateral trade deals, and reexamining other existing trade agreements that he believes have not sufficiently benefited U.S. businesses and workers.  The new administration’s free trade platform has left many Latin American countries wondering whether their trade agreements with the U.S. are next on the list. It is also prompting countries to refocus their own trade policies and pursue new trade opportunities, as evidenced Peru’s newly-commenced talks with India and Mexico’s plans to accelerate trade talks with the European Union.

The United States is currently a party to 14 trade agreements with 20 trading partners, including 11 Latin American countries. The most recent of these agreements are separate Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) entered into by the U.S. with Panama and Colombia, both of which went into force during President Obama’s time in office.  Prior to that, the U.S. concluded an FTA with Peru; the Dominican Republic-Central America FTA (CAFTA-DR) with El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica; and an FTA with Chile, all of which were signed into law by President George W. Bush.  The longest-standing agreement and the one that has been at the center of recent controversy is NAFTA, which went into effect in 1994 under former President Bill Clinton, a fact President Trump pointed out repeatedly as he criticized the agreement during his campaign against Hillary Clinton, the former First Lady and former Secretary of State under President Obama.

NAFTA renegotiation seems inevitable at this point, given President Trump’s position throughout his campaign and his actions since taking office.  However, the form of any future talks between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico remain unclear, and President Trump has not yet initiated any renegotiation under the procedures set forth under Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).  The future of other existing U.S. trade agreements affecting the region remains substantially more uncertain. President Trump’s nominee for U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has not yet been confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Lighthizer represented Brazil during the 1980s, but his positions on Latin America and existing FTAs remain largely unknown. Notably, Wilbur Ross, President Trump’s nominee to serve as Secretary of Commerce, is closer to confirmation and is expected to play a more central role in trade policy than his predecessor. Recently-confirmed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson provided some preliminary comments on U.S. bilateral relations with Colombia and Mexico, but his comments did not indicate how the region’s existing FTAs could be impacted by the shifts in U.S. trade policy. 

Our Washington office continues to closely monitor trade developments affecting the Latin American region. For specific questions regarding any of these agreements, please contact Frank Samolis at frank.samolis@squirepb.com. Frank Samolis was involved in the negotiation of several of these trade agreements, including the U.S.-Colombia and U.S.-Peru trade deals.