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US seeks to strengthen ties with Ecuador as China expands its regional role

With Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso at his side, US President Joe Biden has said the United States is looking to expand and strengthen ties with one of its most loyal allies in South America and a country that is receiving a lot of attention from China.

Lasso’s visit to Washington, DC, on Monday comes as his nation is nearing completion of a trade deal with China, the US’s strongest economic competitor, which this year surpassed the US. as Ecuador’s main trading partner in non-oil products.

The already fragile economy in oil-exporting Ecuador has been hit hard by the COVID-19 outbreak. One of Lasso’s top priorities when he took office last year was signing a free trade agreement with the US Ecuador wants to join Colombia and Chile as the only other South American countries to enjoy such a privileged status.

But Biden, in the first two years of his presidency, has refused to enter into new trade pacts as he focused first on solving a US economy that has been battered by the pandemic, record inflation and energy woes. supply chain exacerbated by Russia’s war in Ukraine. .

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“Today we are going to continue to build on the progress we have made,” Biden said at the start of an Oval Office meeting with Lasso. “Together, we have made historic progress.”

Lasso was due to meet with USAID Administrator Samantha Power later Monday and was scheduled to hold talks with CIA Director William Burns, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as World Bank President David Malpass, and the president of the Inter-American Development Bank, Ilan Goldfajn, before returning to Quito on Wednesday.

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Senator Marco Rubio, in a letter to US International Development Finance Corporation CEO Scott Nathan, urged the Biden administration to increase investments in Ecuador to counter China’s growing influence in the region.

“While the Biden administration continues to assert that the US is the ‘partner of choice’ for Ecuador and other Latin American countries, governments and civil society in the region lament the lack of US-led alternatives to current and future party investments. (CCP),” Rubio wrote.

“I urge you to work with the Ecuadorian government to identify strategic sectors of the Ecuadorian economy, such as telecommunications, infrastructure, energy and mining, so that Ecuador has options, in addition to CCP-backed entities, to invest in these areas.”

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The alliance has grown more important to the US as much of South America has drifted to the left, limiting the political space for cooperation with Washington, whose Cold War military and political interventions are remembered with fondness. bitterness throughout the region.

Lasso, a former conservative banker, scored an upset victory in last year’s presidential election over former left-wing dictator Rafael Correa’s handpicked successor. After his narrow victory, he sought to cement a strategic alliance with Washington.

In recognition of the deepening ties, the United States Senate last week approved a bipartisan bill, the United States-Ecuador Association Act, which seeks to expand bilateral cooperation in economics, security, and environmental conservation. The effort is part of the annual defense bill awaiting Biden’s signature.

Among its provisions is a promise to transfer two excess US Coast Guard patrol vessels to help Ecuador patrol the protected waters around the Galapagos Islands, where China’s distant-water fishing fleet has become an unwanted presence.

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“Our idea is to position the name of Ecuador as a country that respects democracy, with independent government powers,” Lasso said Sunday before leaving for Washington, DC.

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While the Biden administration says it is committed to Ecuador’s success, Lasso faces a long list of significant challenges. Chief among these is the growing influence of criminal gangs, which have been behind a series of recent prison riots, and a US-dollar-pegged economy that has struggled to compete with lower production costs in neighboring countries.

Lasso did not directly mention his desire for a trade pact during his brief appearance with Biden before reporters on Monday.

Lasso, however, reminded Biden that Ecuador has been a strong ally, even being one of the first in South America to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“Certainly, yes, we have been allies for decades,” Lasso said. “And I am here to reaffirm that theory that we share with each other as allies in our fight for democracy, peace and justice, not only in the region but also to support his vision around the world.”

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