Latin America Today: Challenges, Opportunities and Trans-Pacific Perspectives: Brian Lynch Reports on a Recent Seminar at Victoria University of Wellington

By Lynch, Brian | New Zealand International Review, January-February 2008 | Go to article overview

Latin America Today: Challenges, Opportunities and Trans-Pacific Perspectives: Brian Lynch Reports on a Recent Seminar at Victoria University of Wellington


Lynch, Brian, New Zealand International Review


Prime Minister Helen Clark set the scene with a strong affirmation of her longstanding personal interest in the region. She spoke of the 'growing dynamism' in New Zealand's relationship with Latin America. The platform for the latter was the government's Latin America Strategy initiated in 2000 that was focused on enhancement of links with key countries. With exports to the region at 3 per cent and imports 1 per cent of New Zealand's global trading connections, the trade and economic ties had much unfilled potential especially in areas that leveraged off New Zealand's agricultural expertise. There was steady growth in political and people-to-people ties. It made sense for New Zealand to increase its engagement with Latin America as a bilateral partner and link between the region and Asia, given the region's economic potential, growing international influence, and geographic proximity.

Carl Worker elaborated the key themes in the Prime Minister's overview. He identified four principal points of focus from New Zealand's perspective that underpinned the emerging relationship. New Zealand's commitment to Asia-Pacific integration, its vision of 'open regionalism' and its readiness to play the role of 'good neighbour' were based on its credentials as a 'proud and authentic' regional partner. No better illustration of this was active membership of the P4 strategic partnership. New Zealand took seriously its participation in trans-Pacific forums such as APEC and FEALAC. Finally, global production and consumption trends presented new and exciting opportunities for New Zealand and Latin American trading partners to maximise their joint comparative advantage.

In their introductory remarks the two Victoria University organisers of the symposium, Rob Rabel and Warwick Murray, provided additional context. To them the event offered scope to add a new and enduring dimension to the evolving relationship. The presentations to follow would, they were confident, highlight the opportunity to celebrate closer linkages. It would be the occasion for reassurance that distance was proving no barrier to stronger bonds between the region and New Zealand.

The organisers' expectations were more than amply fulfilled. Without disputing the obvious differences attributable to the constancy of geography and the legacy of history, there was robust reinforcement of the value both parties attached to the relationship. And of the benefits to be gained from full and frank participation in a forum such as this, which was so well-suited to the sharing of analyses, experience and interpretation of developments and trends.

The consistently high standard of the papers given was a tribute to the professional competence of those who took part. In the presentations of the five Latin American academics there was much that resonated with a New Zealand audience.

Common themes

A persistent theme was the challenge of coping with the pain and pressures of adjustment to the forces driving regional and global change. Without exception, as New Zealand itself had been through after the reforms of the mid-1980s, there have been mixed results in Latin America from the move away from heavy-handed state intervention, the shift to 'open liberalism' and the lowering of barriers to foreign competition. A familiar experience identified was concern with debt and inflation levels, pervasive wealth disparities, endemic balance of payments issues, and the transfer of asset ownership into overseas possession.

This partial progress was notably apparent in the trade sector. As in New Zealand's case, Latin American economies are heavily dependent on a relatively small number of export products, largely commodity in nature and resource-based. They are starkly exposed and vulnerable to fluctuations in global demand and price levels.

No participant argued that domestic economic reform had been unnecessary in their country. …

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