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Thank you Ms President, dear Members of the European Parliament,
At the Foreign Affairs Council meeting in October, European Union Ministers and I agreed that our relations with Latin America and the Caribbean have not been high enough on our political agenda and that we should change this –not just by saying it, but through concrete action.
The first was the ministerial conference that the German Presidency hosted in Berlin on the 14th of December, which I had the honour to chair and which I think was a great success. Forty-nine Foreign Ministers from the European Union, Latin America and the Caribbean participated in Berlin, together with leading partners like the European Investment Bank, the EU-LAC Foundation and the Ibero-American General Secretariat.
The European Parliament also played an important role. The Chairs of the European Parliament's Committees on Foreign Affairs (AFET), on International Trade (INTA) and on Development (DEVE), as well as the Chairs of the Euro-Latin American Parliament Assembly (EuroLat) and the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assemblies, were also invited to participate as observers.
As we wait for the incoming President of the United States of America, Joe Biden, there is strong interest about the new transatlantic relationship with Washington. However, on the other side of the Atlantic there is not only the United States. Sometimes, when we talk about transatlantic relations, it looks like on the other side there are only the United States, but there are other transatlantic relations. We must not forget these other transatlantic relations, the one that unites Europe with Latin America and Caribbean countries.
We, in many respects, are the closest people in the world. We share history –a dramatic history – and languages and cultural values.
We have a dense network of institutional ties with the region. We have political and trade cooperation agreements with 27 out of the 33 countries in this region. It is one of the densest network of institutional relations that we have.
We are the third-largest trading partner. We were the second and now the second is China, which is everyday more present in Latin America and has recently moved ahead of us. But we are still the leading investor in Latin America, with a direct investment stock worth almost €800 billion at the end of 2018.
And I want to tell you something that might surprise people, because it is not very well known. The investment of the European Union’s firms in Latin America is bigger than what we have been investing in China, India, Japan and Russia altogether. Altogether, not one by one. More than in China, plus India, plus Japan, plus Russia.
It is surprising, but it is real. Our investment focusses on strategic sectors, such as telecommunications and energy. And these are priority areas for our Green Deal and for the Digital transformation.
As demonstrated during the ministerial conference in Berlin, our regions fully agree on the need to defend multilateralism and will join forces to advance towards a greener and more sustainable development model.
Together, we represent almost one third of the votes in the United Nations. It is a big political potential. Our aggregated influence as standard setters will become even stronger.
Together we can better tackle the existing health crisis and its socioeconomic consequences.
Latin America and Caribbean countries have been very active, particularly in the COVID-19 pandemic. Unhappily, they have been heavily hit. With 8% of the world’s population, the region represents one-third of global deaths and is now facing the biggest economic recession in his history.
The pandemic is exacerbating structural gaps, inequalities and social exclusion. The increasing social unrest does not help, particularly where governments are making strong efforts to tackle structural violence.
These are, I think, good and enough reasons why we must show real solidarity and engagement with Latin America.
We are already doing something. More than something, not enough, but quite a lot. We are already the region’s leading development cooperation partner and the leading provider of humanitarian assistance.
We have mobilised €2.4 billion in emergency aid to help Latin America fight against the pandemic. It seems a lot, but it is a drop of water in the ocean of the needs they have. This is not enough given the scale of the problem.
Dear Members of the European Parliament,
Working together with our transatlantic partners on environmental issues is especially important, given that Latin America is home to 50% of the world’s biodiversity and the Amazon rainforest is the major lung for our planet.
As part of the “green partnership” with the region, we are preparing a Team Europe initiative that can address the drivers of deforestation of the Amazon. It will be aligned with the 2019 Leticia Pact.
We also look ahead to the COP26 in 2021. We all need to step up our ambitions on climate issues, as we also agreed in Berlin.
We have also agreed on the need to promote digital alliances to make the most of the opportunities offered by people-focused digital technologies. You know that we are going to have a new underwater fibre-optic cable stretching across the Atlantic, called Bella. It is a digital highway for knowledge and exchange of information between our countries. It is a powerful example of the benefits of working together.
In a nutshell, the Berlin ministerial conference has confirmed that we are on the right track. But we have to go quicker, we have to speed up our relationship. The track is good, but we are too slow.
We have important work in front of us. This year, we need to move forward with the signature and ratification of our modernised Agreements with Mexico and Chile, as well as the EU Agreement with Mercosur, which we have been negotiating for 20 years. I know that these are sensitive issues, but we cannot say that we want to engage and to be best partners and work together with Latin America and not to ratify -on the way that you consider appropriated, because this Parliament has to ratify these agreements- these long due agreements with Mercosur and the modernisation of the agreements with Mexico and Chile, who have a long story behind them. They were the first and the best agreements that we signed with a third country. They have provided extraordinary good results and they have to be modernised.
Mexico is, this year, the chair of the Latin American countries Association. This is a good year to sign this agreement. This is a good year to have a high-level meeting with Latin America.
In the last five years we have not celebrated any Summit with Latin American countries. Here in Brussels, we have a Summit almost every day with someone. In the last five years, we have not had any with Latin America. Do you think it is a sensitive thing? No, it is not. So, I would like the Parliament to put all the pressure in order to reinvigorate our relations with Latin America and to take seriously the ratification of the agreements with Mexico and Chile and to look for a solution to the Mercosur agreement. I know that this Parliament has already said that under the current circumstances and the way it is, it will not be ratified.
Let us look for a solution, let us look for a complementary statement, declaration, whatever you can imagine. But do not throw through the window 20 years of efforts and work to go back to the initial point and to tell to the Latin American countries that in this difficult moment of their history we are not going to agree with them in order to increase our economic and trade and investment relationship. I really encourage you to take this very much into consideration.
These ambitious treaties include political, cooperation, trade and sustainable development aspects, which will reinforce our ties and our shared defence of an international rules-based order.
From any point of view, we will be better with these agreements than without them. You can rest assured that the position of this Parliament is well noted and please help me, help us, help the Commission, help the Council on working to set the right conditions for the entry into force of these agreements.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-200972
Thank you Ms President, thank you to all of you.
Well I see that everybody is eager, willing to increase our relationship with Latin America. Good. We will have opportunities to demonstrate that we really want to do it.
The region, the whole region is in a very difficult situation. They are facing the worst recession of their history and in Central America especially the drama of migration, we see that on the TV screens, the violence, inequalities, bad governance in some countries, would require a stronger engagement from our side.
This is the moment to show real solidarity and work together to join forces and promote green, digital and fair transformation. Green and digital is not enough, we have to add also that the transformation has to be fair and look for more social and environmental justice.
From our side we cannot become a geopolitical power – [which] we claim every day that we are, or we want to be – without a strong presence in Latin America and the Caribbean. If we do not reinforce our relations with the region, others will do so. If you do not agree on reinforcing our ties with these association agreements that are on the table, others will do. I am not sure the results would be better from any point of view –neither digital, environmental, climate, justice, nor better governance.
Let us seize this opportunity, let us have a look at the situation of these agreements. Two of them are almost finished, one of them practically finished, Mexico, and I hope it will be presented to the Parliament in the second quarter of this year at the latest.
The [association agreement with] Chile should also be ready to be approved at the level of the Commission. Because Chile is living a political process of rewriting or writing a Constitution. And we should accompany Chile in this very important political process. This country has decided to put aside the Constitution inherited from the Pinochet time and write a new one. As a Spaniard it reminds me of a moment in our history. We have to accompany Chile in this process, we have to show that they matter for us, and frankly speaking they will not believe that they matter for us if we say ‘okay this agreement in the end we do not like it, let us put it in a corner’.
With Mercosur maybe things can be more complex, I understand. There are several solutions on the table. The Council and the Commission will have to take a decision on how to split it in two parts. Let us see what the Parliament thinks about it, or go together with the full package, complementing it with what is needed in order to ensure a better protection of the environment. Let us work on that. Do not wait 20 more years.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-200973