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Latin America

Volume 549: debated on Tuesday 4 September 2012

9. What steps his Department is taking to strengthen the UK’s bilateral relationships with Latin America; and if he will make a statement. (118504)

The Foreign Office has totally transformed Britain’s relations with Latin America after years of neglect. There have been more than 30 ministerial visits to Latin America in just the last 15 months. We have opened an embassy in El Salvador and a consulate in Recife, Brazil, and we will reopen in Paraguay and Haiti in 2013. Our extensive co-operation with Brazil on the London 2012 Games has been the closest ever seen between consecutive hosts.

Undoubtedly, the Foreign Secretary’s speech to Canning House in 2010 opened a new chapter in relations with south America, and I support the Government’s aspiration to double exports to Brazil, Colombia and Mexico by 2015. However, we must not neglect our traditional staunchest allies, such as Uruguay and Chile. Given our historic role as a trading nation, and the implosion of business confidence in the eurozone, what practical steps is the Minister taking to bolster UK trade with Latin America?

I share my hon. Friend’s analysis. We have a very close working relationship with Chile, which is the most developed economy in Latin America, as well as with Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and other countries with an outward-looking free trade disposition. We continue to work closely to promote British trade and, more generally, wider British interests, including our political interests.

Can the Minister give us a progress report on what the Foreign Secretary called

“Britain’s most ambitious effort to strengthen ties with Latin America in 200 years”?

Does he regard the motion passed by the Organisation of American States, expressing solidarity with Ecuador over his bungled threats to their embassy, as a measure of how successful the Foreign Secretary has been so far?

As an indication, the Foreign Secretary and I have visited Latin America more than did all the Ministers in the previous Government put together. We are strengthening our ties with like-minded countries such as Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Peru. As for Ecuador, when I visited I was the first Minister to go there for 12 years.

May I take the Minister back more substantially to the issue of Ecuador? If we appear to behave in a high-handed fashion, is there not a risk that the very objectives to which he has referred will be substantially prejudiced, not least of course our interest in preserving the independence and self-determination of the people of the Falklands?

It is worth reminding the House that the case to which my right hon. and learned Friend alludes is about Britain discharging its legal obligations with regard to Sweden and an Australian national, so we should not allow it to obscure our wider relations with Latin America. There is no question of Britain acting improperly or beyond the law, and I assure the House that Britain’s relations with Latin America are on a better footing than they have been for decades.