Monday’s debate between President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney was supposed to focus on foreign policy and thus could have encompassed the entire globe. But the candidates traded remarks mostly on the Middle East and China, offering little in the way of new thinking, and pretty much ignored the rest of the world including Latin America.
This is understandable, given that the U.S. is still trying to figure out how to extricate troops from Afghanistan and how to respond to instability across the Middle East. Not to mention, polls have shown that voters remain intensely concerned about the U.S. economy. More than anything, U.S. voters want to hear how Obama and Romney will lower unemployment and boost economic growth.
It’s understandable, but not acceptable. As major U.S. companies have globalized their operations, buying and selling goods around the world, it’s no longer possible to view America’s economy through such an insular lens.
Latin America’s only shout-out came when Mitt Romney said Latin America offered a “huge opportunity” for the U.S. (The folks at Reason.com counted mentions earned by countries in the debate. Iran was No. 1, with 40 mentions, followed by Israel and China, each with 34. No Latin American countries got a specific comment, just Romney’s more general statement about the region.)
Romney’s view on opportunity is unquestionably true. Though Romney didn’t mention any specific countries, opportunities in Mexico have been on the rise since the 1994 passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). According to the State Department, Mexican investment in the U.S. has increased by over 35 percent the past five years.
Mexico is the second-largest export market for the U.S. and third-largest trading partner (after Canada and China). Mexico sends some 80 percent of its exports to the U.S. Recently Mexico has attracted the attention of U.S. venture capital firms.
(Political fact-checkers did have a problem, though, with Romney’s statement that “Latin America’s economy is almost as big as the economy of China.” As PolitiFact.com reports, there’s just no way to make those numbers work.)
A Fox News Latino report does a nice job of comparing the two candidates’ positions on Latin America and zeros in on the key reason the region gets short shrift from the candidates, namely the political sensitivity of issues like immigration and the war on drugs. The piece saves its most interesting insight for last, noting that China has been focused on expanding trade with Latin America. It quotes Ted Piccone, a senior research fellow from the Brookings Institute, as saying “China has made big inroads” in Latin America.