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Trade Boost for El Salvador

Scores of Salvadoran businessmen, some flying in from San Salvador, others members of the large Salvadoran community here, got together last week to bury old animosities and seek what their native country needs: a little trade, with hopes of much more.

No other Central American country was damaged as badly in the wars of the 1980s as theirs. Leftist guerrillas and a U.S.-backed military regime engaged in a struggle that produced little but death and ashes. Here in Los Angeles, Salvadoran emigres sought to bury the bloody past. Now they seek to spark a revival of the Salvadoran economy, which like those of all other Central America countries is minuscule in comparison with America’s.

Washington had a strong hand in what happened in El Salvador in the 1980s, for good or ill, and should do what it can to help the nation’s people rebuild their prospects.

The Salvadorans are not looking for a government-to-government handout but rather the opportunity to do what they can to build trade with the biggest market in the world, the United States. Every country, of course, wants to sell its products in the rich American market, including Mexico and Canada, Washington’s North American Free Trade Agreement partners. San Salvador obviously cannot aspire to those ranks, but its businessmen think they can sell Salvadoran products to and through their immigrant communities in America, most of them in Southern California.

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Two Cabinet secretaries, scores of businessmen and the Salvadoran ambassador to the United States came here last week to plant the seeds at the first Business and Trade Conference El Salvador-Los Angeles. Salvadoran expatriates already pitch in roughly 10% of the home country’s gross national product with annual remittances of $1.3 billion. But they could do more by encouraging American investors to look at opportunities in the now-recovering industrial sector, including newly privatized electric and communications companies.

Yes, it’s a small market for export. But Mexico has become a huge market for American products, and there’s no reason why El Salvador should not become a solid small one. With a kick start from Southern California, the players will make some money and the dark chapter of the Central American wars will fade a bit further.


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