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Celebrating two centuries of diplomatic ties, the United States and Chile have withstood global turmoils, building a resilient relationship that stands as a testament to shared values and mutual prosperity. From the signing of key agreements in the 19th century to collaborative achievements in science, technology, and trade, the journey reflects a deepening connection. In this interview, the U.S. Ambassador explores milestones, the economic impact of the Free Trade Agreement, current challenges, and the shared commitment to cultivating a future marked by continued collaboration, innovation, and a dedication to common values.

Q1: This year marks the bicentennial anniversary of diplomatic relations between the United States and Chile. Can you share some key milestones and achievements from this long-lasting relationship and how it has evolved over the two centuries?

The relationship between our countries has persevered through difficult times in global history – civil wars, world wars, cold wars, and economic depressions – and mutually prospered during periods of industrialization and globalization. Our bilateral relationship has also endured trials and tribulations, all of which have made it stronger and deeper, resulting in countless success stories and a durable, mutually beneficial relationship today as friends and partners.

To highlight just a few of the most notable moments in our shared history:

In 1834, the United States and Chile signed the Convention of Peace, Friendship, Commerce and Navigation which established the “firm and inviolable peace and sincere friendship between the United States of America and the Republic of Chile.”

Ms. Bernadette Meehan, US Ambassador to Chile

In 1849, U.S. Navy officer James Gilliss inaugurated the first astronomical observatory in Chile on Cerro Santa Lucia, kicking off a partnership on astronomical research between our countries that is unrivaled anywhere in the world.

In 1851, American businessman William Wheelwright built the first railroad in all of South America, from Caldera to Copiapó.

In 1903, American miner William Braden opened the El Teniente copper mine, which to this day is the largest underground copper mine in the world.

In 1938, the Chilean North American Institute was inaugurated in Santiago, the first of what would become a network of 14 American Spaces extending from Chile’s far north to the southern tip.

In 1955, the Chile-U.S. Fulbright Commission was established – the oldest in Latin America – and has awarded scholarships to more than 3,000 Chileans and 1,600 US citizens to study, research, and teach in both countries.

In 1961, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) and the National Science Foundation, together with the University of Chile, inaugurated the Cerro Tololo observatory.

In 1969, the Carnegie Institute inaugurated the Las Campanas Observatory, the future home of the Giant Magellan Telescope, which will become the largest optical telescope in the world once completed.

In 1992, American philanthropist Douglas Tompkins founded Tompkins Conservation, which has been dedicated to protecting Patagonian lands ever since.

In 2003, the United States and Chile signed the first Free Trade Agreement between the United States and a South American country.  

In 2010, NASA contributed to the rescue of 33 miners trapped in the San José mine for 69 days.

In 2013, the U.S. National Radio-Astronomical Observatory led an international consortium in collaboration with Chile to build ALMA, which remains the largest radio telescope in the world.

In 2014, the U.S. granted Chile membership in the Visa Waiver program; Chile is currently the only country in Latin America in the program.

Today, we continue to engage in frequent dialogue at the highest levels of our governments.  Presidents Boric and Biden met again just a few weeks ago at the White House to discuss shared priorities.  We also continue to launch initiatives on a range of shared priorities, including science, technology, and innovation collaboration; cultural patrimony protection; combating transnational crime; international firearms electronic tracing; and, very recently, we approved a Bilateral Tax Treaty to prevent double taxation between our countries.

Q2: The United States and Chile have enjoyed a Free Trade Agreement for two decades. Could you elaborate on the economic impact of this FTA, highlight the areas of growth and cooperation, and how it has contributed to the development of both nations? 

The U.S. – Chile Free Trade Agreement eliminates tariffs, reduces barriers to trade in services, provides protection for intellectual property, ensures regulatory transparency, guarantees nondiscrimination in the trade of goods, commits the parties to maintain competition laws that prohibit anti-competitive business conduct, and requires effective enforcement of labor and environmental protections. 

The treaty has brought prosperity and benefits to both countries: Bilateral trade has increased by five times since the agreement was signed and it has become a cornerstone of our outstanding and prosperous nearly $49 billion trade relationship in goods and services. The United States also remains one of Chile’s top sources of foreign direct investment.   

This treaty works in both directions. Just a few months ago, I led the largest-ever delegation of Chilean investors to the SelectUSA Investment Summit in Washington, D.C., and witnessed firsthand the expansive partnership opportunities for Chilean and U.S. companies.  As of 2022, Chilean companies have invested more than $5 billion in the United States, the fastest-growing source of foreign direct investment in the United States.   What is truly remarkable is that some of these companies are now creating exports to other markets, which is a win-win for both economies.  

But it is important to note that our commercial relationship goes deeper than the topline numbers. U.S. investments in Chile are based on respect for our shared values of free-market principles and democratic good governance, which provide a natural defense against coercive economic policies that undermine transparency and human rights.

Through U.S. investment in Chile, U.S. companies provide experience and cutting-edge technology in areas such as concentrated solar energy, remote mining, e-medicine, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence.  They also add value by creating high-quality employment for Chileans, responsibly transferring technology and skills, and spurring innovation. On top of that, they contribute to local communities in Chile through corporate social responsibility programs in areas as diverse as education, promoting social inclusion and prosperity, environmental protection, and COVID-19 relief.

The FTA has also been a valuable tool in the efforts and priorities shared by our countries to tackle pressing environmental challenges.  It was the first FTA to include obligations to protect the environment, an area where the United States and Chile have become leading proponents of several international climate initiatives, such as the Oceans Conservation Pledge, the Global Methane Pledge, the Net-Zero World Initiative, and the Green Shipping Challenge. 

Q3: Chile has been a significant destination for American investments in Latin America.  How would you describe the current state of economic and investment relations between the United States and Chile, and what opportunities and challenges do you see in strengthening the partnership further?

Today we have a robust commercial partnership and are committed to continue working to create investment climates in both our countries that provide the ideal conditions for foreign direct investment and innovation to flourish, bringing with it the resources and capital for our private sectors to grow and improve the lives of our people. Our greatest challenge is to balance these demands with the commitment to promote inclusive and accessible economic growth. 

Over the years, the FTA has stimulated the development of networks of business professionals, government officials, civil society leaders, and others in the United States and Chile, which work together to take on modern challenges, and it continues to provide a framework to address current and future opportunities and challenges.  One of the principal challenges we are confronting is climate change and expanding the development and production of clean, sustainable energy presents an opportunity for both nations. 

As for other challenges, there is always room for improvement. One aspect of our trade relationship that needs more attention is intellectual property protection. Our governments are committed to finding mutually beneficial solutions to ongoing intellectual property concerns. For example, last year the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and Chilean INAPI signed a renewal of their MOU, which will extend bilateral technical cooperation on patents and trademarks for another five years.

U.S. – Chile: 200 Years of Diplomacy, Logo

Another shared challenge is irregular migration, not just for us but for the hemisphere.  This is a problem that cannot be solved by any one country.  We must all work together to support safe, orderly, and humane migration throughout our region and will continue to work with the government of Chile, the international community, and multilateral organizations to address irregular migration challenges and advance more humane migration management policies.

Another challenge is transnational crime.  Organized crime, drug trafficking, and transnational criminal organizations represent threats to communities in Chile and the United States and we remain committed to continuing to work together and share expertise and experience to confront the threats of transnational crime. 

Q4: As the U.S. Ambassador, what message would you like to convey to our audience and network regarding the future of the bilateral relationship, and what areas do you believe require continuous focus and collaboration in the years to come? 

As U.S. Ambassador to Chile, it has been an honor to be able to witness firsthand how the deep and enduring ties of our nations have evolved during the last two centuries to make the U.S.-Chile relationship truly unique.  

An expansive and enduring partnership like this one can only be built upon shared values like respect for democracy, transparency, the rule of law, and the promotion of economic opportunity and human rights.  As we venture into the next two centuries of this relationship, I feel confident that our consistent collaboration on priorities advancing those values will pave the way for a more equitable and prosperous future for our nations, the hemisphere, and the planet. The many achievements we have made throughout our history and the solid, expansive, and durable foundation we have forged will allow us to continue to lead the way regionally and globally as “partners for a better future,” which is a very fitting theme for the celebration of our 200-year relationship.

In collaboration with The Washington Times

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