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Eu Holds Latin America Summit Amid Divisions Over Trade and Ukraine

The European Union hosted Latin American and Caribbean leaders Monday at a long-awaited summit to soothe strained ties, but found themselves divided over how to address Russia’s war in Ukraine. 

The summit of just over 50 senior figures is the first between Brussels and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) since 2015, with several issues undermining ties.

“We need our close friends to be at our side in these uncertain times,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said, welcoming Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva ahead of the talks. 

Von der Leyen promised that Europe would invest 45 billion euros in the Latin American economy under the Global Gateway programme, Brussels’ answer to China’s “Belt and Road” outreach to developing economies. 

But the Europeans had also hoped to convince their transatlantic opposite numbers to sign up to a stern denunciation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — only to be disappointed.

Summit host Charles Michel, representing EU leaders as president of the European Council, opened the first session urging delegates to condemn Russia’s “illegal war”.

“Every country on this planet must be safe. And that’s why Russia must not be allowed to succeed,” he said, arguing that in addition to hurting Ukrainians the invasion has had “devastating consequences for food security, energy prices and the global economy.”

CELAC’s president, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, insisted the summit was not the place to discuss Ukraine, arguing that the war should be brought to a negotiated end even if “not entirely satisfactory to each party”.

“I am aware that member states of the European Union may have an understandable preoccupation with the situation in Ukraine,” he said. 

“But this summit ought not to become another unhelpful battleground for discourses on this matter, which has been and continues to be addressed in other more relevant forums.”

Even as EU and CELAC leaders gathered in Brussels, diplomats were struggling to agree on the wording of the final communique.

The 33 nations of Latin America and the Caribbean have no agreed position on the Ukraine war, and some want to protect ties with Russia or to seek a compromise peace deal.

Instead of dealing with Ukraine, some CELAC delegates will push for the implementation of the 2019 EU-Mercosur trade deal, which has stalled on European concerns about deforestation and agricultural competition.

Three years after agreeing the deal liberalising trade between the EU and Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, it has yet to be ratified by several European governments.

Some capitals had hoped that the summit, held under Spain’s EU presidency, would bring new momentum on the Mercosur deal.

But diplomats from both blocs were clear that no breakthrough on trade was expected at Monday’s talks.

A senior Spanish diplomat told reporters in Brussels that EU-CELAC “will be a political summit, not a negotiating summit”. 

Amazon deforestation 

And Gustavo Pandiani, Argentina’s undersecretary for Latin American affairs, predicted “consultations and political dialogue about broad political lines.

“We are not going to talk about tariffs,” he said.

“Someone announced four years ago that we had an agreement, and now we’re still discussing it. So, it’s likely that we didn’t have an agreement then.”

The first signs of trouble for the trade deal came under Brazil’s former right-wing populist government, with then-president Jair Bolsonaro unleashing a wave of agricultural development in the Amazon.

Bolsonaro — an admirer of US President Donald Trump — has since been replaced by leftist Lula da Silva, who has better green credentials. But Europe’s relief was short-lived.

Brazil under Lula has proclaimed itself “neutral” in Russia’s war against Ukraine, and has pushed back against Europe’s bid to attach rules against deforestation to the Mercosur trade pact.

Speaking at the business forum, Lula did not explicitly address the issue of Ukraine, but made it clear that he thought it a distraction from Brazil’s pressing issues.  

“The war in the heart of Europe has launched, over the world, uncertainties. And it channels for war purposes resources that were essential for the economy and for social programs,” he said. “The arms race makes it even more difficult to confront the climate change issue.”

Energy transition 

In 2020, the EU adopted its so-called Green Deal, which was not aimed at Latin America in particular, but binds its trade deals to tougher environmental standards.

In March, the EU presented a set of proposals to update the Mercosur deal, including binding limits on deforestation, with trade consequences — triggering Brazil’s anger.

“We are back in government in order to put Brazil once again as a protagonist in the international arena,” Lula said, at a brief pre-summit appearance with von der Leyen.

“The energy and climate transition is now a priority for our government.”

The summit is due to last two days.

Source: France 24