CELAC-EU Summit Concludes amidst Tragedy in Brazil

By Dialogo
January 29, 2013

The first CELAC-EU summit concluded in Chile on January 27, with an agreement to boost bilateral commerce, although it was overshadowed by the tragedy that hit a night club in southern Brazil, killing at least 231, and prompting President Dilma Rousseff’s early departure from the event.

“This is a tragedy for all. I cannot stay in the summit, because my priority right now is to be with the Brazilian people,” Rousseff said to her Chilean counterpart. Latin American and European countries expressed their condolences to her government.

When Chilean President Sebastián Piñera was closing the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the European Union (EU) meeting, he asked for a moment of silence to commemorate the dead in Brazil, before referring to the results of the two-day meetings held behind closed doors.

Piñera stated that “the new strategic alliance” between CELAC and the EU will move towards “a more symmetrical relationship,” benefiting not only one but all parties involved. “If half of the world is in recession, the other half will not be able to advance towards development,” he said, and called on the countries of both continents to “join forces” for a better future.

Leaders from 60 countries on both sides of the Atlantic sealed a “new strategic alliance” in a declaration that highlighted the shared commitment to provide legal security to “high quality” investments.

This had been one of the controversial issues raised at the summit, after the expropriations enforced in Venezuela, Argentina and Bolivia during recent years, which also affected European companies.

The decision to strengthen the relationship between CELAC and the EU comes during a period in which Europe, the main world economic block, is suffering from the worst crisis in its history, and Latin America, by contrast, is going through a great moment, with constant average growth rates of 4.5% in the last two years.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos considered that “the main conclusion of this summit (…) is that we are seeing Europe getting out of its crisis, with a better future.”

Europe showed a strong interest for the momentum which is evident in Colombian, Chilean, Peruvian and Mexican economies.

On January 27 it was officially announced that the four member countries of the Pacific Alliance created in 2012, agreed to create a free trade zone for commerce, for which an agreement regarding tariffs will be reached before March 31, 2013, affecting at least 90 percent of products.

“The remaining 10 percent will have a schedule until they reach the 100 percent free trade goal in our countries,” informed President Piñera, along with his counterparts Juan Manuel Santos, from Colombia; Ollanta Humala, from Peru; and Enrique Peña Nieto from México.

“The integrated relationship within the Pacific Alliance will reinforce the position of this group on regional and international levels, making them more attractive stakeholders to European countries,” Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Council, had said earlier.

Furthermore, the CELAC-EU summit reflected Europe’s interest in re-launching negotiations for a free trade agreement with Mercosur, as well as in reviving difficult relationships.

“It would be positive to have a free trade agreement with the EU-Mercosur. Partners should not fear that one may be better than the other, because we can only improve in joint efforts,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

The EU-Celac summit was followed by the first CELAC summit on the afternoon of January 27, founded in Caracas at the request of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in December 2011, with strong Brazilian support.

Cuba assumed an unprecedented leading role in the region, when it took over the temporary annual presidency for CELAC starting on January 28.

Chávez was notably absent from the summit, since his hospitalization for the past month-and-a-half in Havana.

Also absent were Rafael Correa of Ecuador, due to his re-election campaign, and Paraguayan President Federico Franco, whose government was impeded by a sanction imposed by Mercosur and UNASUR after former President Fernando Lugo was overthrown.