The EU and Latin America Should Forge a Strategic Partnership

By Kreft, Heinrich | European Affairs, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

The EU and Latin America Should Forge a Strategic Partnership


Kreft, Heinrich, European Affairs


In a multilateral world, Europe needs partners to help shape globalization. As part of the West, Latin America is better suited than any other region, with the exception of the United States, to work closely with the European Union. In recent years, most Latin American countries have made big steps toward free-market democracy and have become more involved in tackling global challenges.

Europe, however, today pays less attention to Latin America than in the past. We look to the Islamic world because of the terrorist threat, to Africa as a result of humanitarian disasters and to growing Asian markets because of our economic interests. Latin America, by comparison, is not seen as a source either of crisis or of sufficiently promising economic growth. Although a strategic partnership was established between Europe and Latin America at a summit meeting in Rio de Janeiro in 1999, the relationship has not developed much momentum.

There have been some worthwhile results from the partnership agreement. It has led to a dense network of forums for dialogue. The European Union and its member states are Latin America's most important donors of official aid, far ahead of the United States and Japan. There has been cooperation on science and technology, and Europe has become Latin America's main source of direct investment.

Trade relations are somewhat ambivalent. Although bilateral trade has risen sharply in absolute terms, in relative terms its importance has diminished. And while the European Union is Latin America's second most important trading partner after the United States, the Union conducts less than five percent of its external trade with Latin America. In order to increase trade flows, the European Union has opened negotiations on bilateral free trade agreements with various Latin American partners, signed pacts with Mexico and Chile, and is also negotiating an agreement with Mercosur, the Southern Latin American common market. A special feature of these agreements is that they also provide for political dialogue and development cooperation and thus offer a potential framework for coordinating common policies.

So where does this leave the strategic partnership, which presupposes the existence of important, common international goals that the parties want to achieve together? The formulation of such goals is only just beginning, and the three EU-Latin American summit meetings held so far have issued relatively vague declarations. The most recent summit meeting, in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2004, at least chose multilateralism as a focus and discussed closer international cooperation between the two regions. Whether or not this really constitutes a "strategic partnership" - especially in light of the host of "strategic partnerships" between the European Union and other regions and countries - the fact remains that the diverse political, economic and social ties between the two regions, and the increasing international commitment of Latin American governments, represent a significant opportunity for closer cooperation between the European Union and Latin America.

In cultural terms, Latin America is part of the West. The subcontinent's history is inextricably linked to that of Europe. A large proportion of the populations on both sides of the Atlantic share common linguistic, religious and philosophical roots. With the recent spread of democracy and open markets, Latin America may now also be regarded as part of the West in political and economic terms. If only in general terms, the declarations of the three summit meetings emphasize that Europe and Latin America have close ties, as well as common values and interests. Globalization is shrinking the distance between the two regions, and common ideas and interests are becoming more apparent. The international civil-society movement is mainly active in Europe and in North and South America.

Latin Americans are also following European developments more closely. …

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