Future Directions

The twenty first century will bring greater cultural and economic integration to the Americas and increasing homogeneity in terms of the region’s human geography. Throughout the twentieth century, the United States has been the region’s hegemonic power, exerting a tremendous influence over both culture and economy. This dominance is unlikely to be seriously challenged in the coming century, although China’s growing trade and investment in the region represents an important counterpoint to the US’s influence here. To some extent the increasingly ubiquitous presence of a plethora of electronic communications technologies will work to allow continued US penetration in Latin America’s cultures and economies. On the other hand, low birthrates, demand for both unskilled and skilled labor, and weak immigration laws in the United States have and will continue to encourage the flow of immigrants from Latin America to the US and to a lesser degree to Canada. These migration flows, numbering perhaps 1 million annually, are transforming the cultural geography of Anglo America, especially the United States, making it more ‘Latin’ as these immigrants settle per manently. Substantially higher birthrates among Latin American immigrants multiply their impact. In the United States, Hispanics, those who trace their heritage to Latin America, now account for 15% of the total population and will likely account for 25% within 50 years.

Economic integration and the removal of trade barriers between nation states is one of the central tenants of contemporary capitalist world economy. Free trade, comparative advantage, and open markets are among the objectives of these efforts. In the Americas, early efforts at economic integration began in the middle of the twentieth century with the formation of groups like the Andean Pact and the Central American Common Market. But these efforts were largely ineffectual. Subsequent efforts have proved far more successful. The most notable example of these free trade agreements in the Americas is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). This agreement between the United States, Canada, and Mexico became effective in 1994. NAFTA removed many of the tariffs – duties charged on imported goods – on popular imports such as automobiles, electronics, and textiles. Agricultural tariffs, long the subject of heated debate in the US agricultural Midwest, were negotiated bilaterally and tariffs are being phased out rather than eliminated outright. NAFTA has resulted in substantial increases in trade between the member countries. While there is no consensus on whether NAFTA has benefited the economies of the United States, Canada, and Mexico public policy in all three nation states suggest that economic and political relations between them will continue to expand and deepen.

While NAFTA is perhaps the most well known multilateral free trade agreement, others exist in the Americas. MERCOSUR – Mercado Comun del Sur or Southern Common Market – is a free trade agreement between Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay established in 1991. Chile and Bolivia later joined MERCOSUR as associate members. There has been revitalized interest in MERCOSUR in direct opposition to the predominantly United States’ backed plans to expand NAFTA into the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). There has been significant resistance to the concept of FTAA in some countries, but the United States and other partners in the region are moving incrementally toward the goal, often through bilateral agreements between the United States and individual countries (e.g., Chile).

By the middle of the twenty first century, the members of NAFTA and MERCOSUR, as well as the remainder of nation states of the Americas are likely to be joined in some form of customs union, or perhaps even a common market similar to that envisioned by the FTAA. Given the region’s historical ties and strong cultural links to Europe, it is not inconceivable that this economic block would be joined or allied in some way with the European Union.