European Union External Action

Latin America and the Caribbean

26/11/2021 - 11:02
EU relations with Region

The European Union (EU) and Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) have a long-standing strategic partnership, based on shared values, history and culture as well as solid economic ties and common interests. In today’s contested world, the EU-LAC partnership is of geopolitical importance.

The EU and Latin America and the Caribbean have enjoyed privileged relations since the first bi-regional Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) in 1999, which established a strategic partnership. They are natural partners linked by strong historical, cultural and economic ties. Together, EU and LAC countries account for more than a third of the UN membership and are a force for a strong and rules-based multilateral order. They are allies on many of the global challenges of our times, including sustainable development, climate change and protection of biodiversity, human rights and fair and free trade. LAC is also the region with the closest formal ties to the EU which has association, trade or political & cooperation agreements with 27 of the 33 countries. The EU is the leading investor in the region and its third external trade partner. It is represented in all 33 countries and physically present in 26 of them through its Delegations and Member States’ Embassies. A Joint Communication to the European Parliament and the Council European Union, Latin America and the Caribbean: joining forces for a common future  (April 2019) sets out the current policy framework for relations between the two regions.

In today’s fast evolving and contested world, the EU’s partnership with Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is of geostrategic relevance. With deep historic and cultural ties, and grounded in a shared commitment to human rights, democracy, sustainable development and multilateral cooperation, the association between the two regions has a decisive role in addressing the most pressing challenges facing today’s world.

The EU and LAC countries are staunch defenders of multilateralism and a rules-based and inclusive global order. EU and LAC together muster nearly one third of the votes at the UN, and include seven members of the G20. The collective leadership made a difference in addressing climate change and the destruction of biodiversity, by contributing decisively to the Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement.

The bi-regional partnership is long-established, dating back to the San Jose dialogue of 1984, which became a milestone in the EU’s support to the peace process in the region. EU and LAC have held eight Summits, starting with the Rio process in 1991, and since 2013 with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Ministers from the two regions meet regularly, most recently in the EU-LAC Foreign Ministerial Meeting in 2020 where both sides committed to strengthening bi-regional cooperation in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. The EU President of the Council was present as the last CELAC Summit in Mexico on 18 September 2021.

The EU also has a strong engagement at the sub-regional level. The Central America Association Agreement, in force since 2013, is the first ever ‘region-to-region’ agreement the EU has signed. The EU’s comprehensive engagement with the Caribbean is based on the new agreement with the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), which replaces the Cotonou Partnership Agreement. The EU also maintains relations with other regional organisations, such as Central America Integration System (SICA), the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM), the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Mercosur, the Pacific Alliance and the Andean Community.

The EU enjoys diplomatic relations with all 33 countries in LAC, with EU Delegations established in 26 of them. The EU has negotiated association, trade or political & cooperation agreements with 27 of the 33 countries, making LAC the region with one of densest network of formal ties to the EU. The EU has strategic partnerships with Brazil and Mexico.

The EU is a leading partner in Latin America and the Caribbean’s efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) and the largest provider of Official Development Assistance (ODA). For the period 2021-27, it has allocated over EUR 3.4 billion under the its new financial instrument, NDICI-Global Europe, for country and regional programmes. In addition, the EU supports initiatives to promote democracy and human rights, peace and security and the region’s participation in addressing global challenges, such as climate change, through dedicated thematic programmes. The EU also has resources to allow for rapid response to emerging priorities, crisis situations and foreign policy needs.

In the 2021-2027 period, the EU will support the region’s long-term recovery following the COVID-19 health emergency. It will seek to deepen partnerships with LAC countries and regional groups to build back better, by strengthening cooperation on critical areas such as the transition to a greener development model, accelerating digital transformation, support sustainable and inclusive economic recovery, strengthening democratic governance, human rights and peace and security, while also addressing the region’s deep seated inequality and advancing social cohesion and human development.

Respect for human rights, the rule of law, democracy and other principles of good governance form the backbone of the EU’s cooperation with LAC. Advancing the goals of the EU’s Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024, particular attention to tackling inequalities and furthering women and girls’ empowerment as well as promoting the rights of vulnerable groups, including children, refugees, displaced people and migrants, as well as indigenous people. Engagement with civil society organisations, including women and youth organisations, is a central dimension.

The EU’s cooperation with LAC, by and large a middle-income region, requires innovative approaches based on the notion of partnership, which go beyond the traditional donor-recipient approach. The combination of political and policy dialogue, regional and country actions addressing shared challenges, triangular cooperation and the use of credits and blending are important tools to address the varied needs through the region. The EU sustains close cooperation with regional organisations and groups (CELAC, OAS, Pacific Alliance, Mercosur, SICA/SIECA, CARIFORUM/ CARICOM) and multilateral partners to make headway on regional and global challenges.

The novel Team Europe approach - bringing together EU institutions and services, Member States, the European Investment Bank, European financial institutions, as well civil society and private sector - aims to deliver on the EU’s external geostrategic priorities in a visible, transformative and impactful way. This approach will be rolled out both at country and at regional levels, through so-called Team Europe Initiatives targeting key challenges such as the deforestation in the Amazon, organised crime and drugs-trafficking, socio-economic inequality and the digital transformation.

The EU and Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) are closely interconnected in economic terms, with trade and investment flows creating jobs and opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic. Beyond the larger businesses, micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs) play a central role in the societies of both regions, making up around 99% of total companies is both regions and generating the vast majority of private sector employment. MSMEs was also the sector of the economy most hardly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and their recovery will be defining for the overall socio-economic wellbeing of both Europe and LAC.

EU-LAC trade is an important driver of economic growth in both regions. The EU27 is the LAC’s third largest trade partner, after the US and China, while LAC countries are the EU's fifth largest trading partner after China, the United States, the United Kingdom and Switzerland. The total amount of EU merchandise trade with LAC countries was € 176 billion in 2020, or 4.8% of total EU27 trade with the world. EU-LAC trade fell by almost 16% in 2020 while due to the COVID-19 pandemic the LAC region recorded its worst trade performance since the global finance crisis, with exports and imports falling by an estimated 13% and 20 respectively.

The EU is the leading investor in LAC, with Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) stock estimated at about € 794 billion in 2019, more than the combined EU FDI stocks in China, India, Japan and Russia. European investments are concentrated in strategic sectors such as renewable energy and telecommunications and are important drivers for a more sustainable and digital economic model in the region. Meanwhile, LAC investments in EU are considerable and have increased over recent years to some 273 billion in 2017.

Making full use of the EU’s many trade and association agreement with LAC will Agreements in the region will be important to revitalise economies and support inclusive growth. The EU has trade and association agreements with 25 out of 33 LAC countries, including fully fledged agreements with Central American countries and CARIFORUM, a multiparty trade agreement with three countries of the Andean Community (Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru), and agreements in the process of being modernised with Chile and Mexico. 

Negotiations with Mexico were concluded with an understanding on last substantive issue (public procurement at sub-federal level) in April 2020. The modernised agreement will build on the already successful Global Agreement and boost EU-Mexico strong political, cooperation, trade and investment partnership. The objective is now to finalise internal procedures with a view to sign the agreement. 

The EU is also moving forward with an agreement with Mercosur countries. If the EU-Mercosur Association Agreement, which includes a trade pillar for which a political agreement was reached in June 2019, is successfully ratified, the EU would then have comprehensive agreements governing trade relations with nearly all of Latin America and the Caribbean (with the exception of Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela).

EU and LAC also collaborate on the multilateral trade agenda. The EU and LAC countries are keen to strengthen the WTO, which is at the core of the rules-based multilateral trading system, and work together towards a reform of the organisation.

Few regions in the world can boast such strong ties, rooted in our joint history, languages, identities and a shared commitment to democracy, human rights, the rule of law and multilateralism.

In 2021 we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. The Charter sets out a simple, clear declaration: “The peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it.” Europe and the Americas are among the regions with the highest share of democracies. This is the result of our shared history, cultural affinity and strong social contacts, but also of our shared principles and values, and strong belief in effective multilateralism.

Today, democracy and human rights continue to be at the centre of the EU’s partnership with Latin America and the Caribbean. The EU holds human rights dialogues with a number of countries, promotes stronger democratic institutions and human rights protection through cooperation. The EU supports democratic and peaceful outcomes in the region’s crisis situations. Electoral observation, expert and follow-up missions are deployed throughout the region. 

Such shared values are expressed through the people-to-people contacts, educational exchanges and cultural cooperation that characterise everyday relations between Europe and Latin America. Around 6 million nationals from EU and LAC countries live and work across the Atlantic, well integrated in their host countries and the economies to which they contribute. Citizens from most LAC countries can enter the EU without a visa and vice versa.

Since 2005, the EU has supported the creation of an EU-LAC Higher Education Area. In line with this engagement, the EU has sponsored various bi-regional higher education programmes, resulting in about 25.000 scholarships benefiting LAC students and staff. Every year, through the Erasmus+ programme, the EU enables more than 1900 student and staff exchanges between EU and LAC countries. Building on past cooperation, the EU will continue promoting the integration of higher education systems through training, mobility, and exchanges of students and staff as well as with academic cooperation.

The EU-CELAC Joint Initiative on Research an Innovation promotes bi-regional research and innovation, including to tackle global challenges. Under Horizon 2020, to be replaced by the Horizon Europe programme, LAC researchers have participated in 406 projects and nearly 2500 LAC researches participated in the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions. In the end 2020, EU and CELAC launched a Strategic Roadmap on Research and Innovation, providing a promising framework to further deepen cooperation in the years to come.

Culture is key dimension of the EU-LAC partnership, built on the impressive cultural ties, assets and expertise of countries in the regions. The EU works closely with the cultural institutions of its Member-States and the network organisation EU National Institutes for Cultures (EUNIC), while EU Delegations organise a range of activities to further cultural cooperation in their host countries.

In 2010, the EU-LAC Foundation was set up with the objective of strengthening and promoting the strategic bi-regional relationship, enhancing its visibility and fostering the active participation of the respective civil societies. The transformation of the Foundation into an international organisation with seat in Hamburg, in May 2019, was an important milestone in its development. Over 40 countries from the EU and CELAC side have ratified the international agreement and more are in the process of doing so. The Foundation has an active work programme and in 2020 a new leadership team took up its functions for the next four years:  Dr. Adrian Bonilla (Ecuador) as Executive Director and Leire Pajin (Spain) as President..

Latin America and Caribbean is one of the world's most disaster-prone areas and amongst the most affected by violence and forced displacement. EU humanitarian aid focuses on the populations most affected by natural hazards and man-made crises, including violence and population displacement, and on preparing communities to face multiple disasters. Droughts, floods, landslides, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions regularly devastate infrastructure, causing significant loss of lives and livelihoods, and hurricane seasons have become more extreme. The EU has earmarked €6.5 million for disaster preparedness projects in the region in 2020, in addition to immediate support in the aftermath of disasters via the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism.

The COVID-19 epidemic has hit the LAC region particularly hard: with only 8% of the world’s population, it has registered 32% of global deaths. The EU has provided humanitarian aid, with particular focus on vulnerable persons, including indigenous populations. As part of the EU global response to the coronavirus, a Humanitarian Air Bridge operation consisting of 3 flights delivered life-saving material to Peru.

Migration includes two major elements in the Americas: South-North migration from LAC countries (especially Mexico, Central America, Haiti, Cuba) towards the US and the current Venezuelan migration crisis, which involves mostly Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Chile and Argentina. Relevant EU initiatives include the International Contact Group (ICG) and EU Special Envoy for Venezuela, EU humanitarian and development assistance to countries hosting large numbers of Venezuelan migrants, different events, such as the October 2019 Solidarity Conference on the Venezuelan migration crisis, the Pledging Conference organised in 2020, as well as thematic workshops for the affected countries. There is also the future regional border management/migration project EUROFRONT and various bilateral projects in the region.

The EU has been providing assistance in Venezuela since 2016. In 2018 and 2019 alone it provided more than €172 Million in humanitarian and development aid for projects inside and outside Venezuela, including in the countries most affected initially by the migratory crisis (Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru). The EU has been sharing its experience and practices with host countries. The EU will provide € 147 Million in new funding (DEVCO, ECHO and FPI) to deal with the migratory crisis.

The recently adopted Communication on EU Security Strategy2020-2025 reaffirms that protecting the Union and its citizens is no longer only about ensuring security within the EU borders, but also about addressing the external dimension of security. Cooperation with third countries to address common challenges is central to an effective and comprehensive response. An EU Agenda on organised crime is currently in the making, stressing the need for the EU to step up its work against organised crime, including at international level, with more tools to dismantle organised crime’s business model. The new EU Agenda and Action Plan on Drugs 2021-2025 reinforces the evidence-based, integrated and balanced approach to drugs demand and supply reduction.

The EU is committed to fostering human security in the whole of the Latin American and Caribbean region because the lack of human security has a direct negative impact on prospects for political, social and economic development in a region where the EU is a major partner.

The regional homicide rate is roughly 21.5 per 100,000, more than three times the global average. The map of violent hotspots in LAC is highly correlated with the localization of Latin America’s top 10 criminal groups (especially Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, El Salvador). 

Cocaine trafficking from Latin America  is the biggest organised crime threat that exists in that region. Drug trafficking relies heavily on illicit business models, corruption and extortion and such are the volumes of financing and the profit involved that money laundering is an its integral element. 

The EU-CELAC Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism on Drugs exists since 1999 and has worked continuously, as a good example of bi-regional sectoral cooperation. The EU adopted in 2014 a Citizen Security Strategy for Central-America and the Caribbean. The 2015 EU-CELAC Summit added the Chapter on Citizen Security to the bi-regional cooperation. The support to the Mechanism will be provided under the flagship regional EU project on drugs (COPOLAD III) until 2025.

The flagship regional programme on Citizen Security and Rule of Law “EL PAcCTO" was launched in April 2017 and provides an overarching umbrella that ensures effective complementarity with other instruments and programmes. It provides technical assistance and sharing of best practices to the entire criminal chain from an integral perspective (police, justice and penitentiary).

The trans-regional Global Illicit Flows Programme (former Cocaine Route Programme - which also includes Africa) support the fight against organised crime on trans-regional illicit routes, be it in relation to narcotics and the movement of pre-cursor chemicals, illicit arms trafficking, wildlife crime, or illicit financial flows.

EUROFRONT is the EU’s innovative regional programme supporting Integrated Border Management (IBM) in South America. Its objective is to increase the effectiveness of border management and to provide support to the fight against human trafficking and smuggling of migrants.

In recent years, the EU has also advanced as a security partner in LAC, with Framework and Participation Agreement (FPA) to participate in EU crisis management operations with Chile (2014) and Colombia (2017). Peru has requested to start negotiations of an FPA in 2020 and Brazil has participated in a CSDP mission in Africa. Argentina has also expressed possible renewed interest in such an agreement. The EU conducts justice and security related dialogues with a number of countries (Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico) and CELAC and has projects advancing cooperation on organised crime (El PACCTO), drugs-trafficking (COPOLAD), the trans-regional Global Illicit Flows Programme and EUROFRONT amongst others.

EU Electoral Observation Missions (EOM) play a key and highly recognised role in the region.

Since outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU has been at the forefront of multilateral efforts to address the immediate and long-term consequences of the pandemic. The EU has been a key initiator of the global framework to accelerate the research and development of vaccines and one of the main contributors to the COVAX multilateral initiative to ensure international vaccine solidarity.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the EU, its Member States, and financial institutions –particularly the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development- acting together as ‘Team Europe’, have committed nearly €3 billion to address the immediate health emergency and humanitarian needs, to strengthen health systems and support the economic recovery and social protection. By October 2021, COVAX had delivered over 30 million doses to 31 countries in the region. By the same date, the EU and its Member States had exported almost 40 million doses to 12 Latin American and Caribbean countries and donated more than 6 million doses to another 12 countries in the region.

In the long-term, the COVID-19 pandemic should be an opportunity to build more sustainable, resilient and inclusive societies, an occasion to “build back better”, as put by the United Nations Secretary General A. Guterres. EU and LAC foreign ministers, meeting in Berlin in December 2020, agreed to join forces to ensure a sustainable, digital and inclusive recovery, setting a joint and comprehensive agenda to bi-regional cooperation on this matter.

In this context, the EU is working closely with LAC partners to advance the transition towards a greener development model, greater protection of biodiversity, halting deforestation of the Amazon tropical forest, and more ambitious climate action under the Paris Agreement. Many LAC countries are key partners in this regard, advancing progressive green policies and leading voices in international negotiations like COP26.

The EU and LAC are also ideally positioned to step up their engagement on digital issues, being like-minded in terms their support for a human centric model of digital transformation. The two regions are connected through a high speed and secure data link, since the launch of a submarine transatlantic fibre optic cable in 2021 (BELLA). This cooperation could take the form of a ‘Digital Alliance’, based on shared priorities such as connectivity infrastructure, data protection, addressing digital inequalities, and advancing digital market integration through harmonised standards and regulatory frameworks.

Finally, the pandemic has shed a new light on the structural social and economic problems, such as inequality, slow economic growth, high levels of informal work and limited investment in social policies. With the shared objective to renew the social pact underpinning societies in the region, the EU and LAC is sharing experience and policy practices on strengthening social cohesion and reducing disparities, on areas such as social protection, gender equality, education and skills development, health and long-term care and fiscal policies. The flagship programme Eurosocial+, funded by the EU since 2005, advances dialogue and peer-to-peer learning between the EU and 19 LAC countries to reduce gender and socio-economic inequalities, enhance social cohesion and strengthen public institutions.

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