North and South American Countries Working Around United States

Brazil's Industry and Commerce Minister Marcos Jorge, from left, Argentina's Foreign Ministers Jorge Faurie, Brazil's Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunez, Canada's International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne, Paraguay's Foreign Minister Eladio Loizaga, and Uruguay's Foreign Minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa, arrive for a signing ceremony between the South American trade bloc Mercosur and Canada, in Asuncion, Paraguay, Friday, March 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

Brazil’s Industry and Commerce Minister Marcos Jorge, from left, Argentina’s Foreign Ministers Jorge Faurie, Brazil’s Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunez, Canada’s International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne, Paraguay’s Foreign Minister Eladio Loizaga, and Uruguay’s Foreign Minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa, arrive for a signing ceremony between the South American trade bloc Mercosur and Canada, in Asuncion, Paraguay, Friday, March 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

The New York Times is reporting that Latin American leaders braced for the worst last year as they watched President Trump take office, with his vows to protect Americans “from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.”

Then something remarkable happened. Governments across the hemisphere began forging closer commercial ties with one another and paring back some of their own protectionist policies, embarking on a course reminiscent of what the United States itself had proposed in the 1990s but which failed to materialize: a free trade area reaching from Canada to Chile. Washington’s protectionist stance comes as leaders in the region are increasingly looking to Asia, and China in particular, to expand trade, obtain loans and finance infrastructure projects.

“Trump has inadvertently done more for commercial integration in Latin America than many Latin American leaders managed to accomplish,” said Patricio Navia, a political scientist at New York University. Mr. Trump’s policies and disparaging remarks about immigrants, Mr. Navia added, have forced other countries to say, “We have to help each other out and look for alternatives among ourselves.”

Members of Mercosur — the trade bloc that includes Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay — have jump-started trade negotiations with the European Union, which officials say are closer than ever to a breakthrough after languishing for years. Canada, which is worried about the potential unraveling of the North American Free Trade Agreement, has begun negotiating a free trade deal with Mercosur.

“There’s never been a better time to diversify,” said François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s minister of international trade. “It would mean opening a market of some 300 million people, a rising middle class, an economic powerhouse in this part of the world.”

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