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Latin America (Bilateral Relations)

Volume 522: debated on Tuesday 1 February 2011

4. What plans he has to increase the prominence of bilateral relations between the UK and the countries of Latin America; and if he will make a statement. (37143)

The Government are strengthening partnerships with Latin America. I have seen for myself that it is a dynamic and important region during visits to Columbia, Chile, Mexico, Panama and Guatemala. My right hon. Friends the Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary will visit the region in the next few months.

What further specific steps is the Minister taking to improve the United Kingdom’s relationship with Mexico and Brazil, which have two of the world’s fastest-growing economies and are potential strategic allies in the 21st century?

I strongly agree with the sentiment underlying my hon. Friend’s question. I think most people would accept that the last Government neglected Latin America, and that is what we are trying to rectify. Along with other Ministers, I shall be accompanying the Deputy Prime Minister on visits to both Brazil and Mexico the week after next, when my right hon. Friend will take part in high-level meetings and, I hope, increase our engagement with both those important G20 countries.

We welcome the Foreign Secretary’s commitment to increasing our bilateral trade with Latin America, as set out in his Canning house speech last year. Surely, however, one of the best ways to advance British interests would be to establish a free trade deal between the European Union and Mercosur. What steps are the Government taking to bring the negotiations to a swift and successful conclusion?

I strongly agree with the premise of the hon. Lady’s question. We want free trade to open markets all over the world, and Latin America is a part of the world where economies are growing both strongly and at a sustainable pace. We will try to bring about more free trade agreements, as well as trying to encourage greater trade and co-operation between British businesses and companies throughout Latin America.