Trade wars and immigration issues were hot topics among delegates from South and Central America as they discussed the state of trade and connections with the United States at a forum Thursday at the University Club at University of Louisville.
Hosted by the World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana and Greater Louisville Inc., the forum was part of a tour of the city and state by the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program. Ten delegates from Latin America stopped in Kentucky as part of a larger tour of U.S. cities.
Three delegates from Argentina, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador sat on the panel, moderated by Deana Epperly Karem of GLI and Jeanine Duncliffe of Louisville Forward, but other delegates who sat in the audience answered questions where appropriate.
Argentina isn’t much affected by the immigration crisis in the U.S., said Pablo Fernández Sáenz, vice chief of cabinet and secretary of trade for Argentina. But the country is seeing a lot of immigration from Venezuela right now.
“We are welcoming our brothers and sisters from Venezuela, as well as other countries that are our neighbor countries,” he said.
But El Salvador, one of the countries of the Northern Triangle of Central America where many of the migrants at the border are coming from, is having a difficult time.
“The human crisis that is taking place right now in the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) are not caused by poverty,” said Christian Oscar Orlando Aparicio Escalante, city councilman of San Salvador, El Salvador. “The reason the people are leaving are because they are being displaced because of violence, organized crime, modern-day slavery — because of all the disruptions that they are going through.
“The economy in my country is strongly based on remittances — that is the money that is being sent home from here by my fellow countrymen who are here sending money home,” he continued. “So that is why any measures that are taken on immigration will have a huge impact on my country. Not just in terms of economic, but also in terms of society.”
Aparicio mentioned the now-famous photo of the Salvadoran father and daughter who drowned while crossing the border into the U.S. He manages a project to help Salvadorans stay in their home country, but it is an uphill battle.
“The reality is that thousands of people that flee El Salvador to America, they know the risks, they’re aware of what can happen to them,” he said. “They know they can be harmed, they can be raped, they can go through tremendous violence in coming here. Still they have to flee because they are fleeing the violence that is already there in the Northern Triangle.”
Aparicio said he wants to build a stronger relationship with the U.S. to help build opportunities in El Salvador so that fewer people are forced to flee.
The United States’ trade war with China has been helpful and hurtful to Latin America, the delegates said.
Fernández said that in trade wars, nobody benefits. That while short-term gains may happen, in the long run, trade wars are detrimental.
“There’s more instability, there’s more uncertainty, and it’s actually harder in the long-term to create more agreements,” he said.
But Ana Delia Nuñez Liriano, analyst for the Office of the United States and Canadian Affairs in the Dominican Republic, said her country has seen a benefit.
“In the Dominican Republic, just one year ago, we established trade relations with China. Because of that, 18 agreements have been signed,” she said. “Right now, the United States is our main trading partner, but China is No. 3, so I would say, yes (there has been a benefit).”
Sergio Enrique Soto Nuñez of Chile said the price of imported grain has risen because of the trade war, which means more Chileans are buying locally grown grain.
“While you are fighting it out, the international price of grain goes up,” he said. “So there are benefits for many of the other countries involved.”
All the delegates said they wanted to help build their countries’ ties to the U.S., which will benefit their countries in the long run. They hoped to strengthen their manufacturing and technology sectors and provide more opportunities for the people of Latin America.
Uriel Gordon Tiktin, government and public relations manager for Almidones Mexicanos, a Mexican corn products company, said that despite the anxiety around free trade with the U.S., pushing forward is the answer.
“Right now, we are living in strange times,” Tiktin said. “Of course, the uncertainty in the trade world can be an incentive to and a way to just give up. But I think the most important thing right now is to look for opportunities in free trade.”