Pence Concludes Latin America Trip

By Louise Radnofsky Features Dow Jones Newswires

PANAMA CITY, Panama -- U.S. Vice President Mike Pence ended a five-day tour of Central and South America Thursday that was cut short by a day to return to Washington for a Camp David summit on U.S. South Asia policy.

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Throughout the trip, he offered warm words for Central and South America, saying he was acting as Mr. Trump's emissary, though Mr. Trump has sometimes traded harsher words with countries such as Mexico. Mr. Pence also diligently used the whistle-stop trip to offer a refined vision of Mr. Trump's skepticism of multilateral trade agreements

"There is no better place to conclude my trip than here in Panama...The Panama Canal itself is a manifestation of our bond -- forged with Panamanian grit and American know-how and Pittsburgh steel," said Mr. Pence, standing at a new lock of the expanded canal.

Mr. Pence said the canal's expansion is an example of growth that benefited Panama as well as U.S. ports in Miami, Charleston and Savannah.

Since Sunday, Mr. Pence has visited presidents generally considered friendly to the U.S. in Colombia, Argentina and Chile, and in Panama, where he met President Juan Carlos Varela.

Meeting with Mr. Varela shortly before taking off for the U.S., Mr. Pence praised Panama for its work on border security cocaine seizures, which last year were more than the rest of Central America combined, he said. He also noted U.S. assistance with biometric border technology.

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Throughout the trip, he sought to tamp down regional fears of a U.S. military intervention in Venezuela after Mr. Trump last week said such a move was possible. Without contradicting the U.S. president, Mr. Pence said the U.S. and Latin American countries could address their shared concerns over the regime of President Nicolás Maduro together.

"Be confident of this. The United States will continue to bring the full measure of American economic and diplomatic power to bear until democracy is restored in Venezuela," he said Thursday. "The president and I remain confident that working together with all our allies across Latin America, we will achieve a peaceable solution."

Mr. Pence also diligently used the whistle-stop trip to offer a refined vision of Mr. Trump's skepticism of multilateral trade agreements. He said the U.S. wants more favorable terms out of a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, between the U.S., Canada and Mexico that is now under way. But he said the U.S. appreciates its strong trade ties to Latin America and is still interested in bilateral deals.

"Simply put, we seek a deal in the original spirit of Nafta, one that holds to our highest ideals of free and fair trade," Mr. Pence said.

Bilateral talks here yielded a handful of results. In Cartagena, Mr. Pence was able to announce joint agreements over avocados from Colombia and rough rice from the United States. In Buenos Aires, he said the U.S. was close to a deal on pork exports to Argentina for the first time in 25 years; shortly before Mr. Pence began speaking in Panama City, the White House announced the deal had been struck over the entry of fresh, chilled, and frozen pork and pork products.

Argentina is a relatively minor market for pork. The U.S. pork industry has been building new processing plants in Iowa and Michigan, which are predicated on the idea of continued strong US pork exports -- but the big bet remains on China, which is by far the world's largest pork consumer.

In Santiago, Mr. Pence praised Chile's inclusion in the U.S. visa waiver program and pressed President Michelle Bachelet to enforce intellectual property agreements in an existing deal by criminalizing television piracy. He also called on a quartet of Latin American countries, including Chile, to cut all diplomatic and commercial ties with North Korea.

Ms. Bachelet didn't publicly respond to his calls at the time; later, Santiago press reported that her administration had rejected the call.

--Jacob Bunge contributed to this article

Write to Louise Radnofsky at louise.radnofsky@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 17, 2017 20:36 ET (00:36 GMT)