Looking East: Helen Clark Reviews Prospects for Closer Relations with Latin America

By Clark, Helen | New Zealand International Review, January-February 2007 | Go to article overview

Looking East: Helen Clark Reviews Prospects for Closer Relations with Latin America


Clark, Helen, New Zealand International Review


Earlier this year the Cabinet reviewed and renewed the Latin America Strategy, which has framed and guided New Zealand's development of relations with Latin America successfully since 2000. The Latin America Strategy focuses on the enhancement of political and foreign policy, trade and economic, and people-to-people links with key countries in the region.

Topical and important as our relationship with Chile is--and it is New Zealand's longest, closest, and most developed in Latin America--we must also maintain clear sight of the importance and weight of the region's other centres of gravity, in particular the other five countries identified as focuses for New Zealand under the Latin America Strategy, namely Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Peru and--smaller but with a special quality--Uruguay.

A key objective from successful development of the more advanced relationship with Chile is to acquire and enhance New Zealand knowledge and skills and approaches with wider application in the development of our relationships in Latin America. Language and cultural skills are an obvious case. Accessing high quality regional academic and other research networks is another.

New opportunities

The Latin America Strategy has set a new priority and approach towards Latin America for New Zealand during the last six years. It is informed by a vision of new opportunities opened up for New Zealand and Latin America as a result of three major positive developments in the potential of the relationship:

* the increased value which modern New Zealand can offer Latin America as a partner in the Asia-Pacific region;

* the enhanced trade and economic opportunities which Latin America can offer us; and

* the big advances in the practical feasibility of doing business together to realise our new potential.

The wider global communications revolution of the last decade has brought much faster, more reliable, plentiful, and cheaper means of communication and transport within and between countries and regions, transforming our ability to overcome physical distance.

For two parts of the world as geographically distant from each other as New Zealand and Latin America, the implications have been profound. The development of the Internet, the dramatic drop in international telecommunications costs, and the expansion of air links have greatly facilitated our ability to explore and realise new connections--whether related to business, education, tourism, working holidays, migration, or any other purpose. The process has been supported by the rapid spread of English language ability among Latin Americans and--now growing rapidly, albeit from a small base--Spanish language study by young New Zealanders. Portuguese also is attracting interest.

While pressure on availability of airline seats remains and the routes are relatively costly by some international standards, in the last five years the frequency of direct air links between New Zealand and Latin America has more than doubled, and Santiago has been added to Buenos Aires as a regional gateway. The prospects for continuation of this trend appear hopeful.

Profound implications

Looking wider, between two regions as genuinely physically distant as Asia and Latin America--broadly one another's antipodes--the implications of the communications and transport revolution are even more profound. New Zealand, positioned approximately half way between South America and East Asia--a roughly 12-hour direct flight from each--should be a significant beneficiary of the enhanced two-way interaction now building up.

We believe New Zealand has strong value to offer Latin American countries as a partner in the Asia-Pacific region. Of course, it will be for Latin American countries to decide how relevant we are. In that regard we are pleased to have passed the test with Chile in concluding P4. Chile is well known for its business acumen and strategic approach.

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Looking East: Helen Clark Reviews Prospects for Closer Relations with Latin America
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