Trade, not migration, big enchilada of U.S. election in Latin America

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By Hoby Randrianimanana and Dominique Oden
(additional reporting by Folu Ogundimu)

Latin American news media are paying close attention to how the outcome of the U.S. election might affect immigration and what will happen to the Hispanic vote in states with large Hispanic populations. Latin America Post, La Prensa and carried stories about why the Hispanic vote might be crucial for the election.

One feature on, a news aggregator that carries Latin American news, reported Hispanics in states like Texas underperform in voter turnout on Election Day because of restrictive voting practices.

The Latin American Post and La Prensa focused some of their coverage on the differences between the immigration policies of Democratic Party nominee, Hillary Clinton and her Republican Party opponent, Donald Trump.

A Clinton presidency would most likely continue some of President Obama’s immigration policies, giving Latin American families, especially those from Mexico, an opportunity to reunite, the newspapers reported. Trump’s plans to build a wall between Mexico and the US would create even more hardships, the news sites reported.

But the real potential fallout from the U.S. election is not immigration, said Manuel Chavez, an associate professor of journalism at Michigan State University and an expert on Latin America.

The biggest issue facing Latin America following the U.S. election is trade, Chavez said. Countries like El Salvador, Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Mexico are concerned important trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement will be affected by policies that could be put in place following the election.

The stakes are even higher for Mexico because of the level of interdependence between Mexico and big U.S. companies like General Motors, Chrysler and General Electric, Chavez said. Trump’s plans to renegotiate or terminate agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement could severely damage trade for the region.

For Mexico, trade with the U.S. constitutes about 80% of its total global trade, Chavez said.

“Other facts that Mr. Trump is forgetting when talking about his proposal is that half of the U.S. trade with the world is only with two countries, Mexico and Canada,” Chavez said. The second largest oil supplier to the U.S. is Mexico.

Trump’s proposals will mean that many Latin American countries will lose an important part of their markets, said Bruno Takahashi, another Latin America specialist at Michigan State University’s School of Journalism. The situation would then strengthen trade relations with China, which has already established itself as an alternative market in the region.

China’s quest for natural resources and primary products has made Latin America region an important region, Takahashi said. This is a reflection of developments in the new world economy. Whoever wins the presidency must figure out ways to work in partnership with the region to reduce the pressure of Latin American migration to the US, he said. If the economy of Latin America is developed, it is less likely that Latin Americans would want to migrate to the U.S.

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