EU and Latin America and the Caribbean: From natural partners to preferential partners

Josep Borrell Fontelle -
Josep Borrell Fontelle -


2023 IS A key year for the relaunch of relations between the EU and Latin America and the Caribbean. On March 24-25, I participated in the 28th Ibero-American Summit in Santo Domingo. This meeting with Ibero-American leaders ties in with the EU-CELAC Summit in Brussels next July. The confluence of two summits in these six months demonstrates the shared interest in reactivating the "other transatlantic relationship."

For the EU, Latin America and the Caribbean are much more than a market of growing importance. They are a young continent where crucial EU values and interests are at stake for decades to come.

We must turn on the high beams and update our approach to adapt to a new geopolitical context. The strategic competition between the US and China, Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine and the rise of the so-called "Global South" are driving the world towards a messy and unstable multipolarity. This is not an invitation to isolation, but an opportunity to strengthen our co-operation at a time when global commons are needed more than ever.

On both sides of the Atlantic, we want to strengthen our autonomies, avoiding excessive dependencies and diversifying value chains. That is why we need more co-operation and agreements between reliable economic and political partners. If we cannot agree among ourselves, with whom can we agree? The complementarity between these two close and related regions is crucial for our interests and respective roles as global players.

The starting point is obvious: the relationship between the EU and Latin America and the Caribbean is a positive one, based on deep human, political, economic and cultural ties. We have one of the densest networks of political, co-operation and trade agreements between the EU and 27 of the 33 countries in the region. The EU is the third largest destination for Latin American exports, and the first source of investment in the region. The EU is also the leading contributor of development aid.

True, our relationship is based on solid foundations but, perhaps because of this, we had rested on our laurels and other partners, China in particular, have taken advantage of this. It is not enough to recognise what unites us as "natural partners."

We must look to the future and work together as "preferential partners" who dialogue and consult based on shared interests. We must shift the focus from the problems of our respective regions to finding joint solutions to common problems.

This requires more dialogue at all levels, preventing problems or disagreements on either side from overshadowing the potential for co-operation. This is something that citizens recognise.

A survey conducted in September 2021 by Latinobarometro in ten Latin American countries reveals encouraging data. When asked which region of the world their country would benefit most from strengthening ties with, 48 per cent named Europe, 19 per cent North America, 12 per cent Latin America and eight per cent Asia-Pacific.

The Caribbean, moreover, as an economically, geographically and culturally recognisable sub-region, deserves greater political attention from the EU. Part of the response must be to develop a more structured relationship and dialogue.

The aim is therefore to build a new positive and pragmatic agenda for co-operation around the three major axes that will shape the destiny of the 21st century: climate change, the digital revolution and social justice.

Latin America and the Caribbean are a key partner in achieving global environmental goals and the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The region is home to 60 per cent of terrestrial species and the Amazon alone accounts for 56 per cent of the world's rainforests. Without the colossal natural heritage of the Americas, the world will not be able to protect its ecological balance.

The region is also key to ensuring that the digital transformation is put at the service of people, respecting their privacy, rights and freedoms, expanding access to public and private services. That is why we have just launched, on March 14 in Bogota, a Digital Alliance to promote a just and people-centred digital transition.

The social dimension is indispensable: green and digital transitions will be just and democratic or they will not be. Democracy is in retreat around the world and, at the same time, Latin American societies are crying out in the face of poverty, inequality and violence. It is estimated that, by the end of 2022, one in three Latin Americans was living in poverty and one in six in extreme poverty.

In Europe, too, the risk of poverty and social exclusion affects more than one-fifth of the population. It will not be possible to defend our democracies and overcome the autocratic threat, neither in America nor in Europe, without forging a fairer and more sustainable social contract.

To develop this agenda, we have new instruments such as "Global Gateway," the European strategy to support sustainable and transformative investments by bringing together the financial muscle of the EU, member states, financial institutions and the private sector.

Finally, and now even more so, we must together promote peace, democracy and human rights through a fairer and more inclusive multilateral order.

We always say that Latin America and the EU are strong defenders of multilateralism, and this is true. Together we have voted and demanded respect for the principles of international law, such as respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states. But we must go further to strengthen co-operation on peace and security. Our regions must play a key role in reforming the international financial and security architecture.

Josep Borrell Fontelle is the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission


"EU and Latin America and the Caribbean: From natural partners to preferential partners"

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