Monday

4th Mar 2024

Opinion

EU-Latin America: What kind of partnership?

  • Latin America and the Caribbean remain the most unequal region in the world, with around 30% of its population - 167 million people - living in poverty (Photo: Wikipedia)

As the EU and US continue to negotiate a bilateral trade agreement (TTIP) - with citizens of both continents taking to the streets against it - the EU is also getting ready to host another group of “trade partners”: the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

On June 10 and 11, the CELAC Heads of State will meet with their European counterparts for the Second EU-CELAC Summit.

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The event is to be dedicated to "working for prosperous, cohesive and sustainable societies for our citizens".

One may wonder what has been and could be done to build this much-advocated prosperity in both regions.

The discussions ahead of the summit centre on the opportunities of trade and investment - and a business summit will take place on the eve of the main summit.

The central role of trade and investment comes as no surprise. Latin America and the Caribbean have recently witnessed unprecedented economic growth and the EU has played an active role in promoting a number of trade agreements – namely the Association Agreement with Central America (2013), the Free Trade Agreements with Colombia and Peru (2013) and the Global Agreement with Mexico (2000).

But has this economic growth and the trade agreements contributed to build societies that are truly prosperous?

The answer is not clear cut. Despite impressive economic growth, Latin America and the Caribbean remain the most unequal region in the world, with around 30% of its population - 167 million people - living in poverty.

Just a few mechanisms (none of them binding) are in place to monitor the impacts of European investments and to ensure that they contribute to poverty reduction, decent work and compliance with international obligations on human rights. A report from the European Parliament from March 2012, states bluntly that “there is no specific mechanism for monitoring the implementation of the human rights clause”.

What kind of trade for sustainable and cohesive societies?

What type of trade relations links the EU, Latin America and the Caribbean? Trade relations have been - and still are - largely built on the exchange between raw materials from Latin America and manufactured European products with high added value, contributing to deepening an asymmetric relation.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), between 1990 and 2010, the LAC region has doubled its extraction of gold, molybdenum and copper - for jewellery, metallurgical and electronic applications. European companies have quickly gotten on board too. In the last decade, investment in mining exploration in the region has made up 25% of their global investments, with the energy sector also on the rise.

Yet investments in extractive industries have contributed to the escalation of conflicts with local communities across the LAC region. Local communities oppose extractive industries due to their environmental impact – pollution of water and land –which affect local economies, especially in the case of farming communities.

The EU Central American Trade Sustainability Impact Assessment from October 2009 warned how an increase of grand scale investments in the agricultural sector, in particular palm oil and sugar cane, would increase pressure on the population in rural areas and on indigenous peoples, cause deforestation and lead to reductions in other crops, including corn which is a major food staple in the region.

Meanwhile, a recent report by Global Witness declared the LAC region to be the most dangerous for environmental rights defenders, recording 85 killings in 2014, with Brazil, Colombia and Honduras topping the list. These trends cast serious doubts on how the current trade and investment policies between the EU and LAC can be considered sustainable and cohesive.

Human rights

What is less discussed is the role the EU could and should play in ensuring that its relations with the LAC region are coherent with its objectives to fulfil human rights and to fight poverty.

The EU - Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2012 - must live up to the high expectations of people on both continents, and ensure that its companies are held accountable for their actions, also in light of the human rights clauses contained in the trade agreements.

As the European Parliament and national governments are working to strengthen human rights, Heads of States meeting at the EU-CELAC summit should follow and take strong commitments, ensuring transparency and accountability when it comes to trade and investment.

It is crucial to promote social and environmental impact assessments both prior and during the implementation of investment projects and ensure that the voices of local communities are taken into account by companies and local authorities.

These could be some real steps to ensure “prosperous, cohesive and sustainable societies for our citizens” and would certainly be good business for all.

Julieta Gonzalez is policy officer for Central America at Act Alliance EU; Evelina C. Urgolo collaborates with the European Civil Society Networks CIFCA and Grupo Sur. This editorial was co-signed by Alianza por la Solidaridad, CIDSE and OIDHACO

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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