A perfect example is the pending trade agreement with Colombia. Even as action by Washington remains on hold, Colombia has announced its intention to conclude such a pact with China. Do not expect the Chinese to demand labor or environmental protections as part of their agreement. Do expect that Colombian ardor for the agreement with the United States to cool, and as a result, for U.S. jobs linked to a potential increase of exports to suffer and U.S. leverage on labor, the environment and human rights to be reduced.
China is pursuing its economic self-interests aggressively in the Western Hemisphere, and it is doing so effectively. But it is pursuing its own interests, not necessarily the interests of the region. That doesn't make Chinese moves illegitimate or threatening, but it does mean that observers of the China phenomenon should take a longer view of the implications of China's emergence in the Americas, and not just focus on the immediate effects on growth. In that vein, it's time to put to rest the idea so frequently heard in the region and in policy circles that Chinese economic engagement is unquestionably positive for the Americas, while U.S. economic engagement, south of the border, is not.
Eric Farnsworth is vice president of the Council of the Americas, an international business organization based in New York.