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Partnership and cooperation
The level of affinity between Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean has increased over the centuries and has bridged the geographical distances. More than anything else, we are united by common social, cultural, and humanist values that provide fertile ground for partnership and cooperation. Societal changes, geopolitical developments and globalisation are incentives for Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean to further strengthen the ties between them and address global challenges together. In today's multipolar world, in which geopolitical showdowns play an important role, Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean must stand shoulder to shoulder to defend multilateralism and their common interests. There is potential for cooperation in future-oriented areas such as digitisation, science, technology and innovation, standardisation, and the fight against climate change. This last theme is of utmost importance to the Caribbean states. In addition, closer people-to-people networks also help build solid bridges between both continents. Finally, the region also offers numerous economic and commercial opportunities. It is rich in raw materials and has the potential for economic growth. In recent years, the European Union (EU) has concluded cooperation and trade and investment agreements with several countries and blocs in the region.
Recent developments and perspectives
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Latin American and Caribbean societies is enormous. After all, it is not just a health crisis. The pandemic is also placing a heavy toll on the economy and the social fabric, with increased unemployment, poverty and social inequality, increased food insecurity, and lack of access to education.
Those difficulties come on top of the problems that Latin America and the Caribbean have long faced, such as deep discontent with enormous social inequality, widespread corruption, violence, presence of drug networks, and an insufficiently diversified economy, and which have undoubtedly given rise to the 2019 mass demonstrations and social unrest.
The political class will have to show determination to end polarization and to overcome the underlying structural problems that characterized many countries in the region before the COVID crisis. The governments of the countries concerned will have to work together to meet the common challenges and reshape the region and resolutely opt for new policies that will enable economic and social recovery.
Moreover, countries such as Venezuela or Cuba have become more than ever pawns in the geopolitical chess game between the US, Russia, and China, which, through its increasing role and influence in Latin America and the Caribbean, is paving the way for greater dependence and compliance of many countries of the region regarding Beijing. In other countries still, leaders are clinging to power and do not hesitate to circumvent their national laws to do so or crush any form of protest for that purpose. Still others have used the pandemic to their advantage by instituting procedures that could eventually lead to dictatorial regimes.
Bilateral relations with Belgium
The Belgian diplomatic network in Latin America and the Caribbean currently comprises eight embassies (Bogota, Brasilia, Buenos Aires, Havana, Kingston, Lima, Panama, Santiago) and two consulates general (Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo). Some embassies have several countries in their jurisdiction.
The Communities and Regions are also represented in several countries.
Imports of goods from Latin America and the Caribbean amounted to 5,032.9 million euros in 2020, i.e., 1.4% of Belgium’s total imports. Exports to Latin America and the Caribbean represented 5,523.1 million euros in 2020, i.e., 1.5% of Belgium’s total exports (Source: Foreign Trade Agency).
Overall, bilateral relations with Latin America and Caribbean countries are excellent. Like Belgium, most countries in the region support multilateral and regional cooperation and defend the same fundamental values, such as respect for democracy and human rights, gender equality, promotion of fair free trade and fight against climate change. However, some countries do not respect the rule of law and democracy. These countries commit flagrant and repeated violations of fundamental rights and restrict civil and political rights. To maintain pressure on these regimes, Belgium regularly raises the situation in these countries at the United Nations Human Rights Council and joins other EU member states in deciding on targeted restrictive measures (ban on entering EU territory and freezing of assets), while sparing the population.
Relations between Belgium and the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean are multifaceted and developed at various levels (multilateral, federal, regional, community, provincial, municipal), depending on the competences of each. In addition to traditional economic, commercial, and political links, there are also other forms of cooperation, such as academic, scientific, and cultural cooperation, but also police, ports, customs cooperation, logistics, cinematographic and audio-visual productions, and cooperation in the field of security and defence.
Finally, our country has also established very close contacts with non-governmental actors such as NGOs working on, inter alia, poverty reduction, capacity building, support for policy development, good governance, etc. and universities, for example in the fields of scientific research and technological innovation, life sciences, aeronautics, and space, as well as the environment.