26th Mar 2019

EU-Latin America summit achieves little

  • Trade and biofuels were sharp points of division at the EU-Latin America and Caribbean summit (Photo: EUobserver)

Very little of any substance was achieved at the EU Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) summit over the weekend, with the almost 50 heads of state failing to agree to any movement in trade discussions, one of Europe's main objectives in attending the summit.

The leaders said in a joint statement they hoped to "actively pursue" two free trade agreements. One between between Europe and Central America and the other between the EU and the Andean Community (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru).

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Summit host centre-left Peruvian President Alan Garcia said the leaders of the Andean Community had agreed on more "flexible" free trade agreement negotiations.

"We're basically in agreement to move toward an accord at the next round of talks in Brussels on June 12,'' Mr Garcia said at the end of the summit.

However, fellow Andean leaders Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador said it was still too early to move toward any free trade agreement.

The more leftist leaders were opposed to further opening up their markets to European competition before they had a chance for their economies to develop, while the more centrist among them were frustrated at their intransigence.

Nonetheless, the Ecuadorian leader was optimistic: "We made important progress," Mr Correa told reporters in Lima on Saturday. "It's a general framework with flexibility that means in principle countries can sign parts of the agreement and not others."

The leaders did however attempt to put a positive spin on the largely fruitless series of meetings, highlighting discussions that had taken place on climate change and poverty reduction.

"Particularly intense debates were held on combating climate change," said Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, whose country currently holds the six-month rotating EU presidency.

Meanwhile, European leaders backed Brazilian President Lula da Silva, whose country is the world's top producer of ethanol, in their insistence that biofuels are not the cause of sky-rocketing food prices that have rocked much of the developing world in recent months, producing a wave of riots, demonstrations and strikes.

The impact of biofuels should not provoke such alarm, because from my point of view the relationship isn't that clear," said Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Most other Latin American leaders, for their part, remained unconvinced.

All the leaders were able to agree on regarding the matter was that something should be done regarding the food crisis. What exactly remained unsaid.

"[We are] deeply concerned by the impact of increased food prices," the leaders said in a declaration released on 16 May, and called for "immediate measures to assist the most vulnerable countries and populations affected."

At the same time, the major spat that had preceded the talks between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and German Chancellor Angela Merkel largely dissipated. Mr Chavez told reporters he had kissed the chancellor on the cheek and had apologised to the chancellor for his comments comparing her Christian Democrat party to "the same movement that supported Hitler."

Ahead of the meeting, Ms Merkel had warned other Latin American countries to stay away from the Venezuelan socialist's "left-wing populism".

Divisions between Latin American leaders were also on display, with Mr Chavez and Colombia's right-wing leader, Avaro Uribe, refusing to speak to one another. In March of this year, Mr Uribe bombed alleged encampments of Colombia's Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) within Ecuador without Quito's permission, and has accused the Venezuelan president of supporting the Colombian guerillas.

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