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  • The EU’s interest for Latin America as an independent partner dates back to the late 1970s and early 1980s. Democratic reforms and economic growth enjoyed by the majority of Latin American countries led to closer political and economic ties between the EU and the LAC region. Since the second half of the 1980s, political relations assumed a more institutional character. The EU concluded a number of cooperation agreements with LAC countries and subregional groups. At first, the agreements focused on economic cooperation, but soon their subject matter also covered political issues. Today, the EU cooperates with the LAC region on three levels: regional, subregional and bilateral.


    The EU policy towards LAC is based on the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council entitled “The European Union and Latin America: Global Players in Partnership.” Adopted in September 2009, the document assesses EU-LAC bilateral relations and presents the results of the 2005 EC strategy set forth in the document entitled “A Stronger Partnership Between the European Union and Latin America.”


    On the bi-regional level, bilateral relations take the institutional form of summits which are held – as a rule – bi-annually on the levels of heads of state and government and foreign ministers, respectively. The upcoming 7th summit will take place in Santiago de Chile in January 2013 and was re-scheduled from June 2012. Previous summits were held in Madrid (2010), Lima (2008), Vienna (2006), Guadalajara (2004), Madrid (2002) and Rio de Janeiro (1999).


    Between 1990 and the launch of the EU-LAC summit mechanism, the EU-Rio Group[1] meetings were the major platform for political dialogue between the two regions. In recent years, the meetings have been held on the level of foreign ministers, and have taken place alternately with summits of heads of state. Prague hosted the most recent EU-Rio Group meeting in 2009. In 2010, LAC countries decided to merge the Rio Group with the Summit of Latin America and the Caribbean (CALC), creating a single integration mechanism called the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). CELAC was officially launched in December 2011. As a result, the EU-LAC meetings will be renamed EU-CELAC (replacing EU-LAC and the EU-Rio Group).


    Priority areas in cooperation with Latin America comprise: social cohesion (URB-AL and EUROsociAL programmes), regional and economic integration (AL-INVEST, @LIS, LAIF), and human development (ALFA, ERASMUS MUNDUS).  In addition, the following regional programmes are in place: COPOLAD (drug policy cooperation), EURO-SOLAR (renewable energy), EUROCLIMA (climate change), and RALCEA (water sector). The EU is Latin America’s biggest development aid donor, with EUR 2.6 billion allocated for 2007-2013.


    The Caribbean benefit from the European Development Fund (EDF), which is an EU instrument for cooperation with ACP countries (Africa, Caribbean, Pacific). For 2008-2013, the EDF allocated a total of EUR 143 million to the Caribbean region, with such priority sectors as economic integration (CSME – CARICOM single market and economy, and OECS – Organization of Eastern Caribbean States), relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, EPA (Economic Partnership Agreement) implementation and private sector competitiveness.


    On the subregional level, the EU has been fostering cooperation with Central America (negotiations on the Association Agreement ran from 2007 until May 2010. The Agreement was signed on 29 June 2012. The approval procedure is currently underway in the European Parliament. The Agreement will have to be ratified by EU Member States), Mercosur (Argentine, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Following their suspension in 2004, negotiations on the Association Agreement were re-launched in 2010) and the Andean Community of Nations (after Bolivia’s and Ecuador’s withdrawal from negotiations, the EU continued talks on a Trade Agreement with Colombia and Peru which were concluded in March 2010. The Agreement was signed on 26 June 2012. The approval procedure is currently underway in the European Parliament. The Agreement will have to be ratified by EU Member States).


    The EU has started work on a coherent strategy for the Caribbean region which is meant as a political supplement to the Cotonou Agreement and the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). In terms of treaties, the Caribbean countries are linked with the EU in one group with Africa and the Pacific (the so-called ACP Group). The subregional level features EU-CARIFORUM meetings. Negotiations on the EPAs with the Caribbean region were concluded in 2007. Since late 2008, the agreements have been provisionally applied to relations between the EU and all CARIFORUM countries (except for Haiti, which has not ratified the agreement yet).

    As a rule, new generation association agreements that the EU has been negotiating with LAC associations of countries are based on three pillars: political dialogue, cooperation and free trade.


    On the bilateral level, special attention should be paid to the ever closer cooperation between the EU and Brazil (Strategic Partnership since 2007, five bilateral summits until now, with the most recent meeting held on 4 October 2011 and the next summit scheduled for January 2013). In 2008, a similar process was launched in the case of Mexico, while the EU-Mexico Summit in May 2010 adopted the Joint Action Plan in the framework of the Strategic Partnership. The last EU-Mexico Summit took place in June 2012. In 1997 and 2002 respectively, Mexico and Chile concluded association agreements with the EU which also comprised free trade agreements. EU policy towards Cuba continues to be formally based on the 1996 Common Position.


    Today, the EU is second only to the USA as Latin America’s biggest trading partner, and ranks first in the case of Mercosur and Chile. In 2011, EU exports to LA totalled EUR 96.1 billion, with imports at EUR 106.4 billion. Compared with 2010, this means that the value of exports and imports rose by 14% and 17%, respectively (2009 saw increases of 27% and 35%, respectively). For some time now, the EU has recorded a negative trade balance with the region (with EUR 10.4 billion trade surplus for LA in 2011). In terms of relative volume, however, LA accounts for as little as 6.3% of the EU’s total trade (with a steady upward trend: 2010 – 6%, 2009 – 5,8%). Trade with the EU in turn generates 13.5% of the total LA trade. The EU’s main imports from the region include agricultural products, fuels and minerals, while LA imports from the EU primarily machinery, transportation equipment and chemicals. The EU is also LA’s biggest foreign investor, with foreign direct investments from EU Member States totalling EUR 384.9 billion[2] at the end of 2010.


    The EU is also the second biggest trading partner (after the USA) for the Caribbean members of the ACP Group. In 2011, the Union accounted for 13.6% of the Caribbean region’s trade. Meanwhile, the region plays a minor role as a EU trading partner and in 2011 generated  0.3% of the total EU trade. In 2011, EU exports to the Caribbean amounted to EUR 5 billion, with imports at EUR 4.4 billion. The bulk of EU imports from the region are fuels (natural gas and oil), aluminium and iron ore, while the Caribbean’s major imports include machinery, electrical equipment, fuels and steel. According to the available data, at the end of 2009 foreign direct investments from EU countries totalled EUR 28.5 billion.[3]

    [1] The Rio Group used to comprise all countries of the region except Cuba. In 2008, Havana also decided to join the Group.

    [2] All data from the European Commission


    [3] All data from the European Commission



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