New Zealand and Latin America: Minister of Foreign Affairs Phil Goff Describes the Government's Approach to Broadening Ties with Latin America. (Cover Story)

Article excerpt

In August 2000, the government launched a strategic initiative to deepen and broaden New Zealand's relations with Latin America. The strategy arose from an assessment that our foreign policy should, on the one hand, reflect the progress that the key Latin nations had made to sustainable political stability through enhanced democracy, and, on the other, that economic liberalism had opened trade, economic and investment opportunities. Over the last decade there has been a political renewal in the region, accompanied by an economic renewal. These structural changes have been fundamental and most likely permanent. It was clear that there were opportunities that were not being fully taken up.

The medium- to long-term looks promising. The sheer economic power of the region is already impressive. The four major countries of the region, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico, in 2000 had a combined GDP of US$1524 billion (83 per cent of the region's GDP), and imported US$320 billion of good and services. And these countries in particular are growing in stature and influence on the regional and international scene.

The strategy asked some fundamental questions about what the government can do to establish a supportive framework to assist the private sector's engagement with the region. Indeed, the views of the private sector, including business groups and companies, universities, sports and cultural bodies, were sought as the strategy was being developed. The consensus was that our economic and trade objectives needed to be placed into the broader context of the sort of relationships New Zealand wanted to develop in Latin America to realise our medium- and long-term goals. What do we have in common? What areas might we co-operate in more closely? And how can we understand each other better? In this article I will discuss why Latin America is important to New Zealand, outline the government's policy framework, and take a look at where this might take us over the next 20 years.

Strategic approach

New Zealand is a trading nation and participates actively in international affairs. We rely, in a raft of international fora through which we work to influence the shape of the world to better meet our needs, on friends and allies -- on countries we can work with to develop joint perspectives and to promote our interests. For 35 years New Zealand governments have been diversifying our relations away from our former reliance on Britain. Australia, other European countries and North America were logical priorities. East Asia was largely fresh territory and we have had to work hard there over the years. Our relations in that region have now reached the point where there is a natural and regular dialogue by governments, and very close commercial and trade relationships -- the Asia 2000 programme is both evidence of and a contributor to this.

Latin America has until recently been at the periphery of New Zealanders' vision of our place in the world. And yet, these are New World countries, with European colonial histories, common areas of production including primary industries, common trading interests, and social similarities (for example, many have significant indigenous populations), and many are located in our southern hemisphere and/or border the Pacific Ocean. In short, languages aside, Latin American countries share something of our historical origins, and certainly something of our New World global outlook. With increasing democratisation, economic openness, economic growth and rising purchasing power, and, with that, increasing influence on the global scene, opportunities have opened up for mutually beneficial private sector and official interaction.

It should be noted, however, that Latin America will not surpass, or even match, East Asia as a trading partner. Unlike East Asia, where the economies are complementary to New Zealand's, Latin America's strengths are similar to our own -- as primary producers of agricultural, forestry and fisheries products. …