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Brazil and the Caribbean (Foreign Secretary Visit)

Volume 539: debated on Wednesday 25 January 2012

I wish to update the House on my first official visit to Latin America and the Caribbean as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

In November 2010 I set out in my Canning House lecture the Government’s commitment to reinvigorating important relationships in Latin America. I am pleased to confirm that the Government are turning this vision into concrete results. Last year, 27 Ministers visited Latin America of which 14 visited Brazil. We have reopened our embassy in El Salvador and a new consulate in Recife and we are sending additional diplomats to the region to staff these new missions. As a major emerging political and economic power, Brazil’s role in the world is set to grow. We also want to develop a better understanding between Britain and Brazil in foreign policy. Brazil’s role in international affairs is set to grow significantly this century. This flows naturally from their growing economic weight and the shifting international landscape.

Britain has much of the expertise that Brazil needs as it continues its growth—including financial services, sustainable development, the energy sector, defence, security and sports infrastructure. During my visit I held a strategic dialogue with Foreign Minister Patriota—an upgraded mechanism for foreign policy and bilateral discussions between the two countries, reflecting the new momentum in the relationship. I also explored options for further bilateral defence and security co-operation with Defence Minister, Celso Amorim and the Head of the Brazilian Navy, Admiral Moura Neto. Britain and Brazil have a unique opportunity this decade to further bilateral relations through sport, as adjacent hosts of the Olympic and Paralympic games. My meeting with the Governor of Rio de Janeiro reinforced UK/Brazil political and commercial co-operation on the Olympics and the security issues related to these major sporting events. I also announced the launch of the Great Campaign in Brazil which will take place in March 2012 and HRH Prince Harry’s visit at that time.

In a short visit to Panama on 20 January I met the President, First Lady, Foreign Minister and other member of the Panamanian Cabinet. We discussed Falkland Island issues, co-operation on combating money laundering and the possibility of a double taxation agreement with the UK.

In the Caribbean, I attended the UK/Caribbean ministerial forum, leading the strongest delegation of UK Ministers—the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne), the Minister of State, Department for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr Duncan) and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire)—and senior officials to visit the Caribbean in recent years. The forum brought together members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Dominican Republic, with the Caribbean Overseas Territories and Cuba, USA, Canada and Australia participating as observers. Together we committed to a revitalised partnership, with stronger co-operation on areas that matter to both Britain and the Caribbean: trade, counter-narcotics, climate change, and key foreign policy issues. In recognition of the private sector’s role as an engine of growth, a broad range of British and Caribbean businesses also participated in the forum. The forum underlined the value we attach to our enduring friendship with the Caribbean and our desire to re-energise the relationship, creating a more modern, dynamic and forward looking affiliation.

The forum concluded with agreement to a new strategic economic partnership, promoting prosperity and economic resilience among the countries of the Caribbean and the United Kingdom. There was also agreement to enhance collaboration and co-ordination in the fight against illegal drug trafficking between the Caribbean, Britain and the Overseas Territories. This will include a new partnership between the UK, US and the Caribbean to develop land-based intelligence sharing and interdiction capability in the region. We also agreed on the importance of working together on further criminal justice reform which provides the essential underpinning for our drugs and crime work in the region. On climate change, we agreed to work together with urgency and vigour to close the ambition gap on emissions, to mobilise climate finance on the necessary scale, and to secure agreement by 2015 on a comprehensive legally binding global framework. Together we will continue to build on the alliance that emerged at COP17 between the members of the Alliance of Small Island States, Least Developed Countries and the EU. Finally, we agreed to work together in international forums, tackling pressing security issues facing the international community and working to strengthen the Commonwealth as a focus for democracy, human rights, development and prosperity. We also agreed a text in the Caribbean action plan to support the principle and right to self-determination for the Falkland Islanders.

It is this Government’s intention to shape a distinctive foreign policy that protects and promotes our national interests, strengthens our economy, makes the most of the opportunities of the 21st century and upholds the highest values of our society. This visit is part of how we achieve that, and represents a step change in British—Latin American and Caribbean relations. I will also lay in the Library of the House a copy of my speech in Brazil and agreed text from the Caribbean forum on the Falkland Islands.