The European Union is mobilized to reactivate its relations with Latin America and the Caribbean, intensely courted by China and in which Russia seeks to influence, and is preparing a “quantum leap” in its political and commercial relations. After years focused on its immediate neighbourhood, Brussels is now turning towards the region and proposes establishing a permanent relationship body that will serve as a bureaucratic and institutional gear to strengthen ties with a large area -33 countries, 700 million inhabitants- and diverse, according to the draft of a document to which EL PAÍS has had access and which the European Commission plans to approve in the coming days. At the same time, Brussels accelerates the diplomatic offensive with a visit by the head of the Community Executive, Ursula von der Leyen, to Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Chile in the first half of June, explain community sources, and prepares a package of programs and of investments to which Spain will contribute 9,400 million euros. The global volume of this investment is still unknown —and the sources consulted refuse to offer estimates—, but both the European Commission and other Member States plan to contribute amounts that in some cases may be around the Spanish amount.
The EU wants to strengthen the link with a region in which it is the main investor, but in which it has been losing ground to become the third largest trading partner (behind China and the United States), and with which it maintains one of the networks of densest agreements in the world. “In the current global context, with the international order based on rules and democracy under pressure, this association acquires even greater geopolitical significance,” says the EU document, prepared by the External Action Service, led by Josep Borrell, and that will serve for dialogue at the next summit of heads of State and Government of the Twenty-seven and the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAC), scheduled for July 17 and 18 in Brussels.
It will be the first summit of this type in eight years and will mark the starting signal for the Spanish presidency of the Council of the EU, which will have as one of its priorities to promote stable and structured relations with the region. The EU intends to maintain a strong and long-term relationship; In this spirit, the community bloc wants to set the next high-level meeting for 2025, in Colombia, and reactivate other summits with strategic partners, such as Mexico or Brazil, community sources say.
A world of enormous geopolitical challenges, the post-pandemic era and Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has opened the EU’s eyes to its strategic dependencies on Moscow and Beijing, have led it to seek new reliable partners and care for the ones you already have. The window of opportunity and the occasion for a new agenda with Latin America and the Caribbean is “unique”, say European sources.
The EU proposal sets out crucial and complex objectives. Among them, reactivating strategic trade and association agreements, such as that of Mexico and Mercosur —the fifth largest economic area in the world outside the EU, made up of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay—, blocked for years due to objections from community partners. like France, and that they have returned to the agenda; although as a chapter in the medium term. Brussels also seeks to finalize the procedures of the EU-Chile pact and complete those that it has already signed with Central America and the Colombia-Peru-Ecuador axis.
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“The EU can also take advantage of quality investments to help address the physical infrastructure needs of Latin America and the Caribbean, while creating local added value and supporting the development of human capital,” the Commission document says. He also offers a political position to recalibrate the relationship on the basis of “mutual respect and cooperation”, and gives insights into investment plans through Global Gateway. This tool, born to mobilize resources for programs in developing countries, is a formula to counteract China’s New Silk Road, Beijing’s great project to strengthen its position by expanding its trade relations with the entire planet, to which 21 of the 33 countries in the region have joined.
To this new investment agenda, the European Commission will contribute a figure similar to the almost 10,000 million euros that Spain will deploy —through non-reimbursable funds and subsidies, export credit insurance, project financing or loans—, sources say European. Other Member States will add more items for projects focused on promoting the green agenda, although the amounts are yet to be specified.
Europe is in dire need of crucial raw materials – making it hugely dependent on China, its largest and sometimes the only supplier – for green industrial development and energy such as green hydrogen. Meanwhile, Latin America and the Caribbean are areas very rich in resources and essential minerals ―only Bolivia, Argentina and Chile have 60% of the identified lithium reserves― but they are also weighed down by debt vulnerabilities, very unequal and in which the The coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll: 32% of the population lived in poverty in 2022 and 13% in extreme poverty.
This duality worries social organizations and experts. “In this exchange with Latin America and the Caribbean, the EU must be willing to transfer technology, knowledge, investment to provide employment and create added value; and not just transform the region into a provider, as it has always been”, remarks Paulina Astroza, director of the Center for European Studies at the University of Concepción (Chile).
The Brussels plan, however, is not to deploy billions of euros, but to solidify a long-term relationship “between two equals”, insist European sources. And the agenda is not only economic and commercial. Brussels plans to intensify agreements to combat drug trafficking and contemplates new police cooperation pacts (Europol) with Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru; and justice (Eurojust) with Argentina, Brazil and Colombia. The EU also proposes establishing two regional data centers for its Copernicus network, for Earth observation and environmental analysis, in Panama and Chile, according to the document, in which the departments of the economic vice president, Valdis, have also collaborated. Dombrovskis, and the curator for International Associations, Jutta Urpilainen.
“The basic idea is that there is a new social contract and for this the projects must have the capacity to reduce inequalities, regional and global problems,” remarks Hernán Saenz, Oxfam International’s EU-LAC Advocacy Coordinator, who points out that the new The EU’s permanent relationship body with Latin America and the Caribbean should include periodic contacts with civil society, or even create a new framework for contact between state, regional, civil society, business and financial actors. “What is the objective of the EU, to compete with China or for the region to have an opportunity?” Cortés asks.
The Asian giant, which has multiplied its investment in Latin America by 26 between 2000 and 2020, is the great elephant in the room. It is not mentioned in the draft of the text, but it is hinted at. “At a time of growing authoritarian tendencies, the EU and the Latin American and Caribbean region position themselves as key allies to strengthen the rules-based international system and intensify joint action to promote peace, security, democracy and rights. human rights”, states the draft of the document.
Russia’s large-scale war in Ukraine, which is now 15 months old, has served to convince a part of the EU that did not look at that area of the global south of its strategic importance. The EU and Latin America and the Caribbean account for a third of the United Nations membership and the region largely sided with the West in voting on UN resolutions condemning the invasion. Countries with visions such as Guatemala or Chile coexist in the area, which have categorically condemned the invasion launched by Russia and have offered some kind of collaboration to Ukraine. Others like Brazil, which tries to maintain a neutral position (somewhat leaning towards Russia, according to some critics) to try to promote its role as mediator. And some like Venezuela, with close historical, commercial and economic ties to Moscow.
The European proposal for a new agenda comes preceded by the intense diplomatic activity of the European Commission in the region. In recent months, the region has been visited by everyone from the High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell —who has traveled to Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia and will visit Cuba this week— to the Vice President for the Green Agenda, Frans Timmermans, or the head of the Interior , Ylva Johanson. Von der Leyen’s trip, scheduled for the week of June 12, is long awaited: in April he postponed a visit to several countries in the region, including Brazil, while Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva traveled to China. , the largest trading partner of the South American country, ahead of the EU.
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