Al Zapanta: What About Latin America?

A funny thing happened at the Obama-Romney foreign policy debate on last week. One of the candidates completely ignored a foreign policy issue of great concern to America’s Hispanics.

I am speaking of trade with Latin America. President Obama had nothing to say on the matter. It was Mitt Romney who, voluntarily and without being prompted by the moderator, spoke about the importance of having stronger trade relations with our neighbors to the South. And I like what I heard from the former Massachusetts governor. It is one of the reasons I am endorsing his quest for the White House.

Gov. Romney has spent most of his career in the private sector starting new businesses and helping to rescue failing ones. He understands commerce. He understands how jobs are created. At a moment when Hispanic Americans are suffering from an unemployment rate significantly higher than the national average, we need a President who will find effective ways to turn our economy around.

Thus, at the debate, it was Gov. Romney who took up the issue of trade with Latin America. He made the important observation that the combined countries of Latin America forms one of the world’s largest trading blocs. Yet while we talk endlessly of the problems besetting our trading relationship with Beijing, we ignore the potential for expanding trade with our neighbors to the south. The possibility for increasing commerce, and creating jobs from that commerce, is vast.

As Gov. Romney pointed out, U.S. trade increases by about 10 percent a year. Yet trade with Latin America is an area where the White House under Barack Obama has been derelict. Already, the volume of U.S. trade with Mexico is over $1.2 billion dollars daily and there is ample room to build on this foundation. The President’s silence on this issue in the debate was thus not an accident. He has accomplished nothing in this area and has nothing to say.

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Mitt Romney has a plan to reverse this neglect. In his first 100 days in office, he has promised to launch a trade promotion effort in the region that he calls the Campaign for Economic Opportunity in Latin America, which will build on the free trade agreements we have with Panama, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Mexico and the members of the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Its goal will be the creation of strong and mutually beneficial economic ties between the region and the United States.  The days of ignoring our neighbors to the south will end.

Here at home, Mitt Romney understands that many of America’s Hispanics are either owners of small businesses or employed by a small business. He intends to stop burying them with taxes and regulations so that they can free up capital to grow, invest in the future, and hire workers. To that end, he is going to slash individual tax rates across the board by 20 percent. Such a step, long overdue, will help millions of Hispanic Americans keep more of their take-home pay, and help them secure their place in the middle class.

Hispanic Americans around the country deserve leadership that will take our concerns seriously. We are now the nation’s largest minority group. Our votes count. Many of us are veterans like myself who have proudly served our country in peace and war. We want and deserve a president in the White House who will offer us more than promises. That is the leadership Mitt Romney will provide.

Al Zapanta is President and CEO of the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce.

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