EU and CELAC Summit: a decaffeinated one

PHOTO/AFP/EMMANUEL DUNAND - El Alto Representante de la Unión Europea para Asuntos Exteriores y Política de Seguridad, Josep Borrell, llega al primer día de una cumbre entre la Unión Europea y la Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (UE-CELAC) en el edificio del Consejo Europeo en Bruselas el 17 de julio de 2023
photo_camera PHOTO/AFP/EMMANUEL DUNAND - European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell arrives on the first day of a summit between the European Union and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (EU-CELAC) at the European Council building in Brussels on 17 July 2023

It has been a reunion charged with the same old emotions of the past and the usual reproaches, as happens between ill-fated marriages. The summit between the European Union (EU) and its counterparts in Latin America and the Caribbean has concluded without any solid progress, at least in trade matters, because none of the agreements under review have been signed: neither with Mexico, nor with Chile, much less with Mercosur. 

It has been eight years since EU leaders and their counterparts from the other side of the Atlantic had last met, and at the 2015 meeting there were also calls for fair treatment in trade agreements for the Latin American region. And Brazil was already pushing for the signing of the Mercosur agreement with the EU. 

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva once again made the same request at the most recent meeting between the two sides of the Atlantic, and he did so in a despairing tone. "We have been in the same situation for twenty years and they never tell us when".

Lula da Silva arrived as a star and was received in an exultantly affectionate tone by Charles Michel, President of the European Council; also by Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission and the Spanish President, the socialist Pedro Sánchez.

The Brazilian leader is seen by EU leaders as the spokesperson for Latin America, an interlocutor who this year also presides over Mercosur and could end up uniting all the countries of South America in a large economic and trade bloc and under a single currency. A sort of Eurozone with 12 countries and more than 433 million people. 

Brazil is the largest economy in Latin America and the only country that in 2022 captured 41% of the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) that entered the region last year, according to data from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Last year, Latin America and the Caribbean attracted flows of 224.58 billion dollars; Brazil was followed by Mexico, which attracted 17% of this amount, mainly for the services sector. 

The OECD and the IMF also rank Brazil as the largest economy in Latin America and the Caribbean, with a GDP of 1.92 trillion dollars, followed by the Mexican economy with a GDP of 1.41 trillion dollars and, in third place, Argentina with 632.24 billion dollars.

During the welcoming ceremony, President Sánchez went so far as to tell Lula da Silva that the agreement with Mercosur would be signed this year "because all the conditions are in place".

Although Von der Leyen had to clarify afterwards that the most important thing about the EU-CELAC Summit is above all that they have met again after an unnecessary break, and that they are all united because "there are many interests that we have in common", and avoided the thorny issue of giving precise dates.

"The most important thing is that we believe in the same values. We see the world through the same eyes. We share the same faith in the Charter of the United Nations," the European Commission President declared at the opening of the event.

She also repeated the same mantra she said during her mini-tour of Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Mexico a month ago, and reiterated that "Europe was back" because it wants to be an indispensable ally of Latin America. 

For his part, Josep Borrell, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, appealed to historical ties and links so that unity could be regained through the sharing of a series of values.

"We share our vision of democracy and in international forums we also have common positions, which is why it is important that we meet again," Borrell said.

Of course, no one mentioned the issue of human rights, freedom of expression, persecution of dissidents; the hundreds of Latin American exiles in various European countries persecuted by different Latin American regimes. 

Venezuelan dissidents in Spain were shaking in their boots after seeing the affectionate reception, including a kiss on the cheek, that President Sánchez gave to Delsy Rodríguez, Venezuela's vice-president. The vice-president arrived with a large delegation representing Nicolás Maduro's regime. 

Technically, Rodríguez should not have travelled to Brussels, given that she is banned from entering the Schengen area, following the June 2018 sanctions imposed by the EU and the European Parliament against the Maduro regime for its human rights violations. And despite this, Rodríguez was in Brussels.

Other delegations from governments condemned as anti-democratic and repressive also participated, as was the case with Nicaragua. Representing Daniel Ortega, the Nicaraguan foreign minister, Denis Moncada, carried under his arm a speech in which he demanded that the EU lift sanctions not only against Nicaragua, but also against Russia, Iran, Venezuela, Syria and North Korea. 

Moncada's position when signing the EU-CELAC joint declaration delayed its presentation for several hours because he refused to include a paragraph expressly condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine. In the end it was replaced by a declaration in favour of universal peace and the non-violation of countries' sovereignty. 

More than a few Latin American and Caribbean countries took a completely different stance to that of the EU on the war in Ukraine, arms shipments and sanctions. 

President Volodimir Zelenski was once again censured by several representatives of the region who prevented the Ukrainian president from attending the event in person and, secondly, from speaking, even by videoconference, to give them a message about the Russian invasion. Zelenski has already tried several times in different Latin American conclaves and is the only region in the world that refuses to listen to him. 

Ralph Gonsalvez, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and current president of CELAC, was highly critical, pointing out during his speech in Brussels that 'liberal imperialism' is fuelling the war in Ukraine because it serves the interests of the United States, and condemned the fact that Europe has forgotten about Haiti and the situation in Palestine. 

The president of Cuba, Miguel Diaz-Canel, also attended the meeting, raising the discourse of non-interference and respect for the integrity of the Latin American peoples. 

The highlight of the meeting took place at a parallel event to the summit to discuss solidarity between peoples, organised by Spanish MEP Manu Pineda of Izquierda Unida, just as the Cuban delegation arrived to participate in the hemicycle, it was accosted by a group of Cuban dissidents in Brussels who loudly described the "Cuban dictatorship" as "murderous" and "repressive" and denounced the fact that hundreds of people with cancer are dying on this Caribbean island because the Díaz-Canel government does not allocate resources for the purchase of medicines.

EU pledges resources

If anything has changed at this summit, according to Lula da Silva, it is that unlike in 2015, today it is the EU that is most interested in strengthening its ties with Latin America and the Caribbean, and this gives the region a huge advantage when it comes to setting conditions.

This time Latin America can set the conditions for European interests, added Gustavo Petro, president of Colombia, who went so far as to propose to European leaders 'swapping the foreign debt of Latin American countries for actions against climate change'. This proposal was supported by the presidents of Barbados, Argentina and Ecuador. 

"Europe is well aware that we are the providers of oxygen provided by our forests, our forests and our mountains. That is why there must be a fair, equitable and transparent multilateral environmental financing architecture," defended the Argentinean president, Alberto Fernández. 

Attentive to all the proposals, Von der Leyen was keen to sell the EU's attractive financing plans through the Global Gateway; in fact, there was a large forum with businesspeople from the entire Latin American and Caribbean region to hear about the amount of resources available to finance, above all, sustainable projects for countries that comply with human rights and democracy standards. 

"Through the Global Gateway, we are announcing 45 billion euros available for Latin America and the Caribbean, especially for projects that have to do with sustainable areas; with hydrogen production and also for vaccines," Von der Leyen told an expectant audience. 

What is the Global Gateway? It is the EU's response to China's massive One Road, One Belt project, which aims to link the entire world to the Asian giant. 

This investment plan is guided by six basic principles: 1) democratic values and high standards; 2) good governance and transparency; 3) equal partnerships; 4) green and clean projects; 5) a focus on security; and, 6) a focus on stimulating the private sector.

"Global Gateway is an EU initiative launched by the European Commission and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on 1 December 2021. The aim is to invest a sum of up to 300 billion euros in the digital, energy and transport sectors between 2021 and 2027 and to strengthen health, education and research systems in emerging and developing countries and globally," Von der Leyen said. 

For the time being, under this investment umbrella, the EU and the Chilean president, Gabriel Boric, signed an agreement on copper and lithium during the meeting in Brussels, with the intention of boosting the production of both inputs in the Andean country and thus helping to reduce European countries' dependence on Chinese imports of these materials. 

The EU will provide Chile with resources in order to trigger local production chains and then help the Andean country to have the appropriate channels for exporting them.

"Chile has the world's largest lithium reserves in its salt lakes in the Atacama Desert and is also the world's largest producer of copper, two essential metals for making electric car batteries. And therefore highly strategic for the energy transition underway at the moment for the European Union," confirmed the Chilean leader. 

Von der Leyen also signed a very similar agreement with Argentina during his tour last month, also to boost Argentine lithium production. 

Agreement with Mexico undated

For Mexico, a commission represented by Alicia Bárcena, the new Foreign minister, arrived in Brussels, where she also had the opportunity to greet several Latin American presidents that she has known for some time. 

However, no concrete announcement was possible at the EU-CELAC Summit as to when the new Economic Partnership, Political Coordination and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Mexico, also known as the Global Agreement, which has been in force since 2000 and in the process of being modernised since 2016, could be signed and enter into force.

On 21 April 2018, the EU and Mexico, reached an Agreement in Principle "on a modernised trade pillar" but to date it has not been finalised and, therefore, the trade agreement is not fully in force, nor applicable. 

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, in his meeting in Mexico City with the President of the European Commission, urged Von der Leyen to complete the review and have it signed by parliamentarians so that it can enter into force once and for all. 

During her speech in Brussels, the Mexican Foreign Minister acknowledged that Mexico will continue to do its utmost to speed up the deadlines so that the EU-Mexico Global Agreement can be approved as soon as possible. "We still have a lot of work ahead of us.

Like most countries in the world, the global pandemic affected trade flows between Mexico and the EU, which amounted to 51.1 billion euros in 2020 and decreased by 17.6% year-on-year. Mexico attracted €6.6 billion of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in 2020. And in terms of a cumulative amount of investment there is the historical figure, from 1999 to 2021, which registered a total of €177.3 billion.