EU-LAC Summit aftermath: mixed reviews

By Eleanor Griffis~

The party is over, everyone has gone home, and the assessments begin on what was truly achieved at the Fifth EU-LAC Summit held in Lima last week.

The focus of this summit was twofold: poverty, inequality and inclusion as the social dimension; and climate change, environment and energy as part of sustainable development. Work groups from both the European Union and countries in the Caribbean and Latin America prepared reports on these issues over weeks and even months before the Summit, and they are the focus of the Lima Declaration signed by all the heads of state.

Yet these issues were generally glossed over in the local media. The greater emphasis pushed enthusiastically by both Peruvian government officials and private entrepreneurs appeared to be squarely placed on future business and investment possibilities. State TV commentator Carlos Espá undoubtedly expressed some of their sentiments when he commented to environmental lawyer Jorge Caillaux that the country hardly needs lots of pesky, environmentalist NGOs making life miserable for mining investors. Caillaux cautioned to handle such a concept with kid gloves, but precious TV sound bytes were immediately switched to another subject.

In private business, the Summit has brought some positive results. David Lemor, executive director of the government’s investment promotion agency, ProInversion, praised the success of the business deals closed during the first EU-LAC Investment Forum, which he says could bring up to $1 billion in investments to Peru. Plans also were initiated for future business missions between Latin American and Caribbean countries.

As historian and analyst Nelson Manrique comments in his column in the daily Peru21, the results of the Summit “vary according to each person’s expectations.”

“The Government, the business sectors and their media have celebrated it as a great triumph,” Manrique says, particularly regarding the agreement between Andean Community (CAN) countries on trade negotiations with the EU, and the latter’s willingness to consider a “more flexible framework” for negotiations, focusing on the specific development needs of each CAN member country and taking into account their asymmetries.

Indeed, Peru’s Foreign Affairs Minister, José Antonio García-Belaunde, considers the EU acceptance to a more flexible negotiation framework for free trade agreements with Andean Community countries to be one of the great achievements of the summit.

But “whether this (EU flexibility) actually means a real change or not will only be seen at the operational meeting on June 12, when the agreement is to be ‘perfected,’” Manrique says. “Each Andean president has a different reading of what flexible framework means,” he adds, while the EU has not actually varied its decision to negotiate with the Andean Community as a bloc, and certainly not before 2010. The free trade agreement between Chile and the EU involved ten years of protracted negotiations, which led the EU to adopt a policy of only negotiating with trade blocs, which in this region means CAN, Mercosur and the Central American Common Market.

One of the least enthusiastic assessments comes from Pedro Francke, economics professor at the Universidad Católica and former president of Peru’s state Development Cooperation Fund, FONCODES, who told listeners on the IdeeleRadio program that he sees little change ahead.

“The Presidents will approve an official statement and nothing will change, the inequality between Europe, Latin America and the interior of our countries will continue,” he said. Francke points out that Latin America’s greatest development aid comes from Europe and that the EU as a trading partner is important to Latin America, but that Latin American trade represents only 7% of EU’s total international commerce and therefore is not that continent’s most important concern.

European nations and institutions and more recently the EU as a whole, have provided development cooperation aid to Peru for decades, focusing strongly on sustainable development and social issues.

Critics complain of generalities in the different chapters of the Declaration of Lima – 12-year goals in education, inclusion, poverty relief and energy, climate change or illegal drug traffic—with no follow-up instruments in place as yet.

But diplomat and political analyst Alejandro Deustua points out that “The problem lies in the process of a Summit, which has very little capacity to be specific.” In an interview with La República, Deustua emphasizes what he sees as the positive aspects: “there has been manifest good will, there have been none of the frictions that were expected between some of the Andean countries, the alternative summits developed well.” His criticism is that “the Declaration of Lima is dense, bureaucratic and unfortunately does not include the conclusions we would have wished to see in the general chapters addressed.”

Proposals such as incorporating Latin America in the Euroclima project as an information exchange system, and President Alan García’s suggestion of an oil and gas tax to fund reforestation were made here in Lima during the summit and not earlier, and therefore need to be addressed by every member nation before coming to the EU-LAC table.

Deustua also considers the Summit positive for raising Peru’s profile in the region. “The Europeans give importance to Brazil, Mexico and Chile, and probably now Peru will improve its status in the eyes of these countries and thus its potential for dialogue and influence.”

One of the positive aspects of the summit, writes acerbic analyst Eduardo Adrianzén in his column in La República was that “(Venezuelan President Hugo) Chávez spoke less nonsense than he usually does.”

“What a relief! The summits are over,” Adrianzén declared.

Adrianzén wasn’t too kind to the alternative, People’s Summit either, which he described as something of a fair “where one could dance, sell handicrafts, maca and fried pork without giving receipts, scream to one’s heart’s content against the other summit, and even spot (1960s activist) Hugo Blanco, somewhat like seeing a brontosaurus in Jurassic Park.”

Now everyone will begin honing their expectations for the grand Summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Council to be held in Lima in November.

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