TEXAS VIEW: America last

By The Brownsville Herald

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday began his weeklong trip to Latin American countries by warning them against trading with China and Russia.

Tillerson called trade with China “harmful,” and said Russia’s growing presence in Latin America is “alarming.”

“Our region must be diligent to guard against faraway powers who do not reflect the fundamental values shared in this region,” the secretary said, comparing the foreign powers’ growing presence in the Western Hemisphere to old colonialism and imperialism.

Tillerson has reason to be alarmed. The Associated Press reported last week that China now is the largest trading partner with Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru.

But don’t expect those countries to pay much heed to Tillerson’s words. And, truth be told, the United States is partly responsible for the trade shift toward China and Russia, and away from U.S. businesses.

President Donald Trump has been in office just one year, so the blame isn’t solely on him and his protectionist policies. But those policies surely inspire other countries to look elsewhere. As will become more evident as those policies continue, their greatest effect likely will be to reduce trade opportunities for this country. Today’s global economy has become so diverse that merchants in other countries have little difficulty finding other markets if they encounter the high tariffs and other protectionist policies that Trump has promised.

It’s worth noting that under such policies, U.S. trade deficits with other countries, which Trump condemned as a candidate, are likely to grow even more.

It’s also worth noting that Mexico, Chile and Peru are active members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade network, from which Trump pulled the United States last year.

Perhaps more unfortunate is Tillerson’s reference to Latin America’s history of oppression by foreign powers. He was talking about abuses that occurred during the conquests by Europeans five centuries ago, but people in the region might be more likely to remember the more recent “yanqui imperialism” of the 1950s and 1960s, when CIA-backed operatives reportedly were involved in political unrest and coups in Guatemala, Brazil, Chile, Argentina and other countries. Any residual umbrage over past abuses could well be directed our way, not across the ocean.

If the United States has lost market share in Latin America, it’s because people in the region have found better deals elsewhere. And with the ever-growing trade options around the world, our best chance to win them back is with competitive trade policies, not with political threats.