US to offer economic benefits for countries hosting migrants, shore up supply chains

By Ted Hesson and Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States on Friday will announce new development financing for countries hosting migrants in the Western Hemisphere as part of an effort to curb migrant arrivals at the U.S-Mexico border and expand economic cooperation in the region, senior U.S. officials told Reuters.

President Joe Biden will convene leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean at the White House on Friday to discuss economic issues and migration at the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity (APEP) Leaders’ Summit.

The summit follows a similarly themed meeting of Western Hemisphere leaders in Los Angeles last year, part of a broader push aimed at strengthening regional economic ties and reducing China’s influence in the region.

The White House said leaders from Barbados, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Peru and Uruguay are expected to attend Friday’s gathering, as well as representatives from Mexico and Panama.

The United States is working with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), which promotes economic development in Latin America and the Caribbean, to create a new financing platform that will serve middle and higher-income countries, the officials said, requesting anonymity to share details on the forthcoming announcements. The United States will also work to expand its contributions to the bank, one of the officials said.

The new IDB financing platform is part of a package that will also include funds from the private sector and other donors “to reinforce this welcoming spirit in the region,” the official said. The hope is to expand economic prospects in the region so migrants do not head to the United States.

“We are talking about building competitive regional supply chains that can compete in the market, and that means competing against China,” another U.S. official said, adding that better economies at home could reduce migration outflows.

Clean energy, semiconductors and medical supplies were areas where the region could compete globally, one of the officials said, adding that increased cooperation efforts could also help Latin America bolster work in space, an area where it has lagged.

Partner countries could also advance the use of innovative new instruments such as Colombia’s green bonds, or the recent debt for climate swap set up for Ecuador by the U.S. International Development Finance Corp, the official said.

Biden, a Democrat, has grappled with record numbers of migrants crossing the southwest border, fueling criticism from Republicans and some Democratic mayors who say their cities are struggling to provide housing and food.

The mayors of Chicago and Denver met with senior Biden officials at the White House on Thursday after they sent a letter this week along with the mayors of Houston, New York and Los Angeles requesting federal funding and faster access to work permits for migrants, the Denver mayor’s office said.

Biden has sought to pair restrictive measures to deter illegal border crossings with new legal avenues to the United States.

The administration in mid-October resumed direct deportations to Venezuela that were stalled for years due to tensions between the two nations. At the same time, the United States admitted three Venezuelan families as refugees through a new migrant processing office in Colombia, one of the U.S. officials said.

Because the families arrived through the U.S. refugee resettlement program, they will have a path to U.S. citizenship and receive other benefits not available for those crossing the border illegally, the official said.

The administration aims to scale up processing through Safe Mobility Offices, centers that have also opened in Guatemala, Costa Rica and Ecuador. It remained unclear whether those measures and others will reduce record migration levels.

The Biden administration has called on the U.S. Congress to provide additional funds for border security, including money to pay other countries to deport migrants. Panama has expressed interest in expanding migrant screening and deportations if funds become available, the official said.

(Reporting by Ted Hesson and Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing by Mica Rosenberg, David Gregorio, Lincoln Feast and Mark Porter)