US plans projects in Latin America to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative

WASHINGTON – US officials are set to tour Latin America this week to scout infrastructure projects as they prepare a counter to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Initiative.

A delegation of diplomatic and development officials led by President Joe Biden’s Deputy National Security Adviser Daleep Singh is in Colombia, where they plan to meet President Ivan Duque, before stops later in the week to Ecuador and Panama, US officials said.

The group is tasked with turning Build Back Better World (B3W), the international infrastructure investment initiative announced by the Group of Seven (G-7) richest democracies in June, into reality.

It’s the first of several planned “listening tours”.

In addition to meeting with Mr Duque, Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso, and Panamanian officials, the trip will allow US officials to speak with the private sector, civil society and “traditionally marginalised groups,” officials said.

The programme is focused on areas that include climate, health, digital technology and gender equality, officials have said.

A formal US B3W launch event is planned for early next year that will include details of some initial projects aimed at narrowing the US$40 trillion (S$54.16 trillion) needed by developing nations by 2035, according to a senior Biden administration official.

It is not yet decided how much capital the programme will ultimately allocate.

In just over a month, US officials also plan to huddle with at the Group of 20 rich countries and COP26 climate change conferences in Europe, which China is also set to attend.

Conversations will continue at Mr Biden’s planned Summit for Democracy in December.

China’s Belt and Initiative (BRI), which Mr Xi launched in 2013, involves development and investment initiatives stretching worldwide. More than 100 countries have signed agreements with China to cooperate in BRI projects like railways, ports and highways.

“Very few of the projects make economic sense and they often have very poor labour and environmental standards,” the Biden administration official said.

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