EU: Brussels prepares a commercial and diplomatic offensive to stop the advance of China and Russia in Latin America | International
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Alarm in the European Union at the advance of Russia and, above all, China, in the countries of Latin America, a region traditionally linked in political and economic terms to the West. With a view to 2023, Brussels is preparing a diplomatic and commercial counteroffensive to try to retake positions in the area, according to a document sent to the EU foreign ministers, to which EL PAÍS has had access. The text warns of the feeling of European withdrawal in many of the 33 countries in the area, a space that is being occupied by the economic interests of Beijing and the political influence of Moscow.
The European Union has neglected its relations with Latin America for almost a decade: a summit between the two regions has not been held since 2015. The community club has focused that time on the problems of its immediate neighborhood, such as Libya, Syria or now Ukraine. China, on the other hand, has multiplied its investment in the region by 26 between 2000 and 2020 “and is the first or second most important trading partner of Latin American and Caribbean countries, displacing the EU and surpassing the United States in many countries” , warns the document prepared by the European External Action Service (EEAS), headed by Commission Vice President Josep Borrell. The report underlines that 21 of the 33 countries in the area have joined the so-called New Silk Road, Beijing’s plan to expand its trade relations around the planet.
Brussels will try to stop the growing distance with Latin America with a “qualitative leap”, according to the document, in the intensity of relations and contacts, which is expected to culminate with a summit at the highest level during the Spanish presidency of the EU (second half of 2023). ). The path to this great event has already begun to clear, with the convening of a ministerial-level summit in Buenos Aires next October.
“The credibility of the EU and its power and ability to leverage on the international scene is at stake,” warns the document prepared by Borrell’s department. The also high representative of the EU Foreign Policy set himself the goal from the beginning of his mandate, at the end of 2019, to regain presence and influence in Latin America. But the pandemic prevented closer ties. And the Russian invasion of Ukraine has revealed that not only has Europe lost a lot of ground to China, but that many Latin American countries do not share the European response to the war launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The key will be to have an agenda of measures that help Latin American countries to overcome the macroeconomic consequences of the conflict in Ukraine,” recommends Javi López, MEP and president of the European delegation in the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly. López points out that the region is facing a perfect economic storm, “with rising interest rates and exhausted fiscal space.”
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“Risk of protests and political destabilization”
The community report warns that in Latin America “the risk of social protest and political destabilization, which already existed before covid, is real and has worsened with displacement [de población] and the migration crisis. The region has also entered a new political cycle with the coming to power of what Brussels describes as “candidates anti-establishment”, with Pedro Castillo in Peru, Gabriel Boric in Chile, Xiomara Castro in Honduras, Rodrigo Chaves in Costa Rica or Gustavo Petro in Colombia. The possible victory in Brazil of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva could culminate a “remarkable transition”, as defined by the aforementioned document, with presidencies that rotate from the right to the left.
The common denominator of the new governments in international politics “is that they are less Atlanticist and more open to alternative alliances to the traditional ones”, which went through the EU or the US, explains a community source. Brussels already perceives competition from Beijing and Moscow in seeking support from the region in multilateral forums. “The EU needs to systematically boost its multilateral engagement with Latin American and Caribbean countries in view of increased competition from China, Russia and others for votes in multilateral fora,” the EEAS report calls for.
The region has largely aligned itself with the West in votes on UN resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion. But public opinion and the parliamentary arches of the different countries reflect a much more fragile support for the theses of Washington and Brussels. At the last summit of Euro-Latin American parliaments, held in spring in Buenos Aires, the European delegation failed to pass a condemnation of Moscow, not even when it was raised in the same terms as those approved by the United Nations.
The Government of President Volodímir Zelenski is aware of the potential gap that international support for Ukraine may suffer in Latin America. kyiv has intensified its contacts in the area to avoid an alignment of the region with Putin. Zelenski has received the Guatemalan president in person and has maintained contacts with Boric’s new government, with whom he has even discussed the possibility of Chilean demining experts helping in Ukrainian territory. The Ukrainian president addressed the rulers and citizens of Latin America on Wednesday through a videoconference broadcast at the Catholic University of Chile. “Russia tries to prevent Ukraine’s contact with Latin American countries,” said the official, who also urged “disseminating the truth” in the region about the Russian invasion. However, the contacts have been rather cold —“correct”, in the assessment given by diplomatic sources— with two giants such as Brazil and Argentina, where the government’s sympathy towards Putin leaves little room for doubt.
A large number of Latin American countries also feel disappointed by the EU, which has shown itself incapable of finalizing the free trade agreements negotiated or renegotiated for years. The pact with Mercosur —the fifth largest economic area outside the EU, made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay— and the updating of the agreements with Mexico and Chile continue to be bogged down by the ratification process and by the objections of community partners such as France.
MEP Javi López, who has traveled to the area several times in recent months, believes that the estrangement between the two parties is evident. “One of the biggest risks is taking the relationship with Latin America for granted,” he considers. And he warns, in particular, of the danger “of the mirage that makes one believe that Spain has a guaranteed link for historical reasons or because they share a language.” He assures that “the decoupling of Latin America with Europe and Spain is already taking place”. The EU has already been overtaken as a trading partner by China in Argentina, Mexico, Chile or Venezuela.
López believes that, in spite of everything, at the moment circumstances are converging that make Europe’s relationship with Latin American countries feasible. “First, the war, because the EU needs to find allies; second, the European need to seek suppliers of hydrocarbons and raw materials, abundant on the other side of the Atlantic; and third, the Spanish presidency of the EU, which gives a horizon of 18 months to program an ambitious agenda”.
The European Commission has a budget of 3,400 million euros to cooperate with the region during the 2021-2027 period. Borrell’s department, according to the confidential report, believes these funds should be exploited “strategically and for maximum impact.” Brussels is also studying preparing an investment package that would be announced at the summit under the Spanish presidency and that, based on public and private capital and credits, could mobilize 8,000 million euros, according to Commission calculations. And this is not mere altruism. The community document highlights that three countries in the area – Bolivia, Argentina and Chile – have 60% of the lithium reserves located on the planet, and Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil have important oil and gas reserves. Some hydrocarbons in which the EU is about to lose its main supplier: Russia.
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