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LATIN AMERICA | 07-06-2023 12:42

EU seeks to boost 'neglected' ties with Latin America

European Union launches new strategy to "recalibrate and renew" relations with Latin American and Caribbean countries, just over a month before first EU-CELAC summit for eight years.

The European Union put forward a plan on Wednesday to bolster relations with Latin America as the bloc seeks to increase its influence in the face of Russia's war on Ukraine.

EU ties to the region have been hampered by the failure to wrap up a comprehensive trade agreement with the Mercosur group of four countries – Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay – during two decades of negotiations.

There have also been disagreements with key regional powers such as Brazil over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine and the fallout from that war. 

"Sometimes this partnership has been taken for granted or even neglected," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said. 

EU leaders are to hold in July the first summit with Latin American and Caribbean counterparts grouped under the CELAC bloc since 2015. 

The push to improve relations with the region is spurred by Spain, which takes over the EU's six-month rotating presidency next month, and which has strong ties with parts of Latin America dating from colonial times.

The new strategy from the EU's executive arm envisions pressing to conclude the Mercosur trade deal, unlocking funding for infrastructure projects and holding more regular summits.

The EU sees Latin America as an important potential source of crucial raw materials as Brussels seeks to wean Europe off reliance on China. 

"The war in Ukraine has also opened our eyes on the need to work with trusted partners and to diversify our supply chains," said EU trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis. 

But Europe has struggled to counter Moscow's narrative in Latin America that puts blame on Western sanctions – and not the Kremlin's war – for roiled supply chains and diplomatic tensions. 

Brazil's left-wing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has upset Ukraine and its backers by saying Kyiv shares blame for the war and suggesting the West is fuelling the conflict.  

Efforts to ink a trade deal with the Mercosur group have dragged on for 20 years, with Latin American countries resisting EU efforts to get them to comply with the bloc's strict environmental and climate requirements.

The EU is currently the largest foreign investor in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Trade between the two regions last year totalled almost 300 billion euros (US$320 billion).

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