EU’s Latin Partner
Heads of state from the European Union and 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations met in Rio de Janeiro June 28 and 29 to liberalize trade between the continents and to strengthen ties. Why? To counterbalance the U.S.’s political and economic weight in the region.
The EU is no stranger to Latin America. Post-colonial ties provide a historical link that has never been completely broken. The EU has for some time been the biggest trading partner of Latin America’s trade bloc, Mercosur—comprised of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile as an associate member. The EU is also the largest investor in the area and the biggest provider of development aid.
Europe clearly has a deep interest in Latin America; EU exports have grown by 164 percent this decade—surpassing $52 billion in 1997. At the same time, however, Latin American exports to Europe have risen by only 29 percent, compared with an increase of more than 120 percent to other markets.
The Latinos are eager to capitalize on their current popularity by exploiting a little friendly competition between their northern neighbor and the EU. As European Voice, June 24-30, reported, “The [Mercosur] bloc has warned that if the EU drags its feet on market-opening, it will be pushed into the arms of North American countries which are currently negotiating a free-trade agreement with their southern neighbors. This would have a damaging impact on European firms.” Acting External Relations Commissioner Manuel Marin also warned recently that “if we do not know how to take advantage of the space and opportunities offered through cooperation with Latin American countries, others undoubtedly will.”
Is Europe’s new commitment to Latin America purely economic? While the recent summit did see a document signed agreeing to “gradual and reciprocal trade liberalization,” the summit was clearly not just about trade—the leaders also lent their names to an extensive list of proposals: upholding human rights, encouraging tourism, boosting cooperation in fighting terrorism and the drug trade.
We can’t ignore the fact that Latin America, besides boasting agricultural and other resources, also represents a population of 500 million citizens, the vast majority of which are firmly bound to Catholicism. In this time of relative stability on the South American continent, the ecstatic support given to the pope’s 1998 Latin American visit, to the point where Communist Cuba kept Christmas last winter, reconfirms where this population ultimately offers its allegiance—to the heart of Europe, the seat of their economic and religious heritage.