FORTUNE: Why America Is Taking A Back Seat To Chile In Trade Talks




March 13 | By: Alan Wolff. 

This week, the trade ministers of a dozen Pacific Rim countries are gathering in Vina del Mar, Chile, to discuss their trade relations. It is an extraordinary meeting in several respects.

For one, a country the size of Chile with a population of about 18 million would not be expected to exercise global leadership to convene an international economic conference. Whereas Chile’s economy ranks 45th in the world with a GDP of about $277 billion, the the United States ranks number one with a GDP of about $17 trillion.

A second reason is that the purpose of the meeting is to discuss what the attendees should do, given that US President Donald Trump has essentially scrapped what would have been a landmark trade deal that would have bound most of these countries together (not including China, one of the invitees to this gathering) – the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

A third reason why this meeting stands out is the timing. World trade ministers are meeting at a time when the Trump Administration has yet to have a new the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), which by law is the chief negotiator for trade deals. The Senate is just beginning its confirmation process this week on nominee, Robert Lighthizer, who served as deputy USTR under President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, but a Senate vote has been delayed due to a 24-year-old statute that bars anyone who ever represented a foreign government in a trade dispute or negotiation with the United States from serving as a USTR or Deputy USTR.

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