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Launching a new strategy for Latin America, Germany promises a relationship of equals

The German government has presented a new strategy for Latin America that, according to Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, takes into account the region's growing economic and political significance.

Sao Paolo's skyline against a backdrop of mountains

Latin American cities such as Sao Paolo are taking on a new, global profile

In Brazil, it seems, no one is brooding about the effects of the global economic crisis. They haven't got time. What with burgeoning foreign investment and preparations for the 2014 Soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, there's too much to look forward to. Given such prospects, it's hardly surprising that the German government is eager to breathe new life into its economic relations with not only Brazil, but 32 other countries in Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean.

German Vice-Chancellor and Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle

Westerwelle announced that Latin America will now occupy a 'central place' within government policy in Berlin

"The whole South American continent is taking off," Westerwelle said as he presented his ministry's 60-page strategy paper on Wednesday to an audience that included ambassadors from Latin American nations. "Despite many setbacks and difficulties, it is a singular success story, and we should be smart enough to take part."

Three-pronged approach

Germany last formalized a strategy for Latin America back in 1995; now, the region deserves more focused attention, the foreign minister said. The new strategy entails a three-pronged approach to boost trade, harness the diplomatic influence of key players such as Brazil, and take on more collective responsibility for international issues. There should be a "new quality" to the relationship between Germany and Latin America, said Westerwelle - a relationship between equals.

"Do we really believe that growing, dynamic regions like Latin America will be content to be viewed by us solely as trade partners or investment locations? Because they won't," he said. "As they grow and become more successful, they will also demand to have a greater say when it comes to important topics in global politics."

A farm worker distributes soybeans on a truck at a farm in Salto, some 190 kilometers northeast of Buenos Aires, Argentina

Latin American countries such as Argentina are among the world's leading exporters of soya beans

This year, Latin America is expecting economic growth of more than 5 percent. Europe, on the other hand, will be lucky if it registers just 1 percent. In order to profit from Latin America's boom, Germany has long been providing political assistance to economic partnerships between companies. Those partnerships are reflected in the trade volume between Germany and Latin America, which reached 36.5 billion euros ($48.2 billion) in 2009, up 16.3 percent from 2005.

Now though, Berlin has discovered that the region can also serve as a valuable partner when it comes to resolving global issues such as the financial crisis, climate change, disarmament, and the war on terror.

"We don't just share common economic interests with Latin America, we also share common values," Westerwelle said. "Even given the differences that exist between Latin America's individual states, this is the best basis for our close cooperation."

According to the new strategy, Germany will now also be offering assistance on issues concerning human rights and democratic rule. In the case of the somewhat more complicated relationship with Cuba, however, Germany will continue to defer to common European policy.

Strategy welcomed by diplomats, NGOs

The new strategy was welcomed by many of the Latin American diplomats who attended the presentation at the Foreign Ministry.

"We now have the opportunity to reestablish a historic bond," said Argentina's ambassador, Guillermo Nielsen. "At the start of the last century, our most important market for exports was Germany, but in the postwar era, this relationship was lost. Now it's coming back."

Trucks carry coal from a pit in Cerrejon, Colombia

Colombian coal exports are booming, but other Latin American countries such as Mexico hope to make inroads in renewable energies

Mexican ambassador Miguel Angel Padilla said he was looking forward to a relationship with Germany that would extend beyond the two countries' already close economic cooperation in the automotive, chemical, and electric technology sectors.

"I hope to see more cooperation, economic exchange, and direct investment in renewable energies between Germany and Mexico in the near future," said Padilla.

Representatives of several non-governmental organizations as well as the Catholic aid agency Misereor particularly praised the strategy's statement of support for those working to protect human rights in Latin America. However, they cautioned that a close eye must be kept on further economic cooperation that could result in increased poverty and displacement for people living on land that is of value because of its crops or natural resources.

"I would like to know more about how the strategy paper defines sustainability - a term that is used quite frequently," said Hein Broetz, Latin American expert at Misereor. "Indigenous people (in Latin America) are often driven from their land to make way for large infrastructure and natural resource projects, and I was expecting the government to make a clearer statement as to where it stands."

Author: Bernd Graessler/Margret Steffen (dc)
Editor: Rob Mudge

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