Biden mulls US rival to China’s Belt & Road in Latin America

The administration of United States President Joe Biden is aiming to counter China’s Belt & Road infrastructure expansion into Latin American by sending an official there to scout for projects, sources tell Bloomberg News.

The White House wants to engage in projects in Latin America with higher environmental and workforce standards than those China is funding, with full transparency for the financial terms, sources tell Bloomberg [File: Johis Alarcon/Bloomberg]

The Biden administration is considering a U.S.-led competitor for China’s Belt and Road international trade and public works program, and a top White House official will scout Latin America next week for possible projects.

Daleep Singh, the U.S. deputy national security adviser for international economics, is traveling to Colombia, Ecuador and Panama to talk with high-level officials, business leaders and civic activists about infrastructure needs, according to U.S. officials who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

Colombian President Ivan Duque Marquez, Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso and Panamanian Public Works Minister Rafael Sabonge are among the officials Singh plans to meet.

The White House wants to engage in projects with higher environmental and labor standards than those China is funding, with full transparency for the financial terms, the officials said.

The Belt and Road initiative has transformed from what was once regarded in the U.S. as a series of unconnected infrastructure projects into a centerpiece of Beijing’s foreign policy strategy, aides to President Joe Biden said. China has gained raw materials, trade links and geopolitical leverage from the program, they added.

Biden and other Group of Seven leaders earlier this year discussed a coordinated infrastructure initiative for developing countries to counter China’s program. In the White House, the new project is known as Build Back Better for the World, echoing one of Biden’s key domestic legislative proposals.

Across the developing world, there are more than $40 trillion in infrastructure needs through 2035, administration officials said. U.S. officials plan to first solicit ideas from local leaders before formally selecting several flagship projects early next year, aides said.

They rattled off a list of examples of possible projects, including solar power plants in India, water treatment facilities in El Salvador, pharmaceutical research and manufacturing in South Africa that could produce Covid-19 therapies or vaccines, digital technology projects that might result in an alternative to 5G wireless networks, digital links for Kenyan farmers and vendors, or investments in women-owned businesses in Brazil.

Officials traveling with Singh will include David Marchick, the chief operating officer at the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation.

(Adds details of meetings in third paragraph. An earlier version corrected U.S. trip participants in the final paragraph)

Source: Bloomberg