Latin America - Motion to Take Note

– in the House of Lords at 3:09 pm on 7 December 2023.

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Baroness Hooper:

Moved by Baroness Hooper

That this House takes note of the United Kingdom’s relationship with the countries of Latin America, and the political trends and economic developments in those countries.

Photo of Baroness Hooper Baroness Hooper Conservative

My Lords, recent developments in the 20 countries of Latin America have drawn more media attention to the region than it normally enjoys in this country, so it is a happy circumstance that, having tried for a balloted debate for the last two years, I was finally able to secure this wide-ranging debate on a Conservative day. I am especially pleased that my noble friend Lord Ahmad will reply on behalf of the Government since, in spite of his wide portfolio of duties in the FCDO, which do not include Latin America, he has nevertheless been very recently in South America. I declare my interests—all non-pecuniary—as a past president and current vice-president of Canning House; as a past chairman and current vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Latin America; and as trade envoy to Costa Rica, Panama and the Dominican Republic.

In this troubled world, and post Brexit, we need more friends. It has always seemed to me that the historic links between the United Kingdom and Latin America are not sufficiently recognised or emphasised in this country. The independence movements 200 years ago, when our then Foreign Secretary George Canning

“called the New World into existence, to redress the balance of the Old”,—[Official Report, Commons, 12/12/1826; col. 397.] may not always be remembered here, and our children may not be taught about it, but it is well remembered throughout Latin America. There is tremendous good will and respect for the United Kingdom as a result. I believe that to be the best foundation for a good future relationship. I hope today’s debate will help to raise awareness and demonstrate new opportunities to improve on our current links and relationships, and do so in such a way as always to recognise the particular attributes of Latin America, such as its rich biodiversity; ensure that environmental concerns and climate change are taken into account, including Latin Americans’ role in that respect; and ensure that human rights and, indeed, the rights of indigenous people are safeguarded.

Why is Latin America an important region of the world, particularly for us? It is not just because, with a combined population of over 600 million people, it represents a huge market with a young and dynamic population, or because we share democratic values, although that is important when we work together in multinational organisations, as well as bilaterally. It is very much because, to the gold and silver which attracted Europeans to the New World in the first place, there have been added rich deposits of oil and gas, of copper, lithium and cobalt—the very commodities needed to enable us to reach net zero and look forward to living in a cleaner world. Many other renewable initiatives are taking place throughout the region; green hydrogen, in particular, is being developed, especially in Chile.

On the Motion, and looking at our trade relationships, it is sad to consider that this large and important region represents only 2% of UK imports and 2.5% of our exports, but that gives us huge opportunities to do more in investment and infrastructure projects, especially water and sewage treatment, but also in green finance and financial services generally, and, indeed, in the education sector, particularly in tech. Those are of great importance in looking forwards. The Department for Business and Trade is working hard at it, our embassies throughout the region are doing a terrific job and I really believe that the future looks bright.

Brazil is clearly the biggest economy. It plays a leading role as a BRIC country and is about to assume the presidency of the G20. Mexico is the second-biggest economy. Interestingly, not only do we have a variety of exports to Mexico but we can see a lot of Mexican investment in the United Kingdom. Anybody who sees the wagons of CEMEX, the concrete company, going around our construction sites will realise what an important role that plays.

The CPTPP, which we have just joined—indeed, the first day in Committee on that Bill is taking place even now in the Moses Room—includes Mexico, Peru and Chile, which have been Pacific Rim members of it from the start. They supported our application. One of the next applicant countries is Costa Rica—a stable country that is already a member of the OECD and is one of the countries I focus on as a trade envoy. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure me that the UK will give its support to Costa Rica’s application when it comes up.

Perhaps at this point it is appropriate to raise the issue of visas. I apologise to my noble friend because I did not give him advance warning of this. There is a great lack of consistency in the way visas are dealt with. It seems very odd that on the one hand we are trying to attract visits and trading opportunities, and on the other we are making them more and more difficult. Again, I revert to education, as this is something that applies to students, researchers and other such people—as well as leading politicians, in some cases. I hope that the British Government will try to iron out some of these problems, of which I am sure that they are well aware, as soon as possible.

As well as our trading relationship, political change has been very much in the air. The “pink wave”, which last year saw President Lula da Silva returned to the presidency in Brazil, is now overshadowed by very recent election results. For example, in Ecuador we now have Daniel Noboa—at age 35 the youngest President in the Americas, younger even than President Trudeau of Canada—who has the difficult task of building a constructive relationship with the National Assembly, a fractured body without a stable governing coalition, and with only the remaining 16 months of his predecessor’s term in office in which to achieve it. Argentina has recently elected Javier Milei, a self-proclaimed right-wing libertarian, reflecting an electorate desperate to have something done about 140% inflation and 40% poverty. Milei takes over this Sunday, and I am told that, so far, the population is hopeful and willing to accept the necessary hardships to come, and his appointments of his ministerial team have met with general approval.

In Peru we have seen six Presidents in five years—I think that just about beats us—but next year elections are due in El Salvador in February, in Mexico in June and in Venezuela in October. In the meantime, we have the distraction of the referendum called by President Maduro over the annexation of part of Guyana. That is a very vexed question that has existed for some time, but nevertheless the UK has a special interest here since Guyana is of course a member of the Commonwealth.

When we look at Latin America, it has to be recognised that there are problems, with violence, drug trafficking and gang warfare spreading to what were considered to be peaceful countries, such as Ecuador. Mineral exploitation of the commodities that I talked about earlier, which is so important for the net-zero figures and so on, should not be at the cost of human rights, especially those of indigenous people.

The last time we had a major debate on Latin America, as opposed to the several short debates we have had about specific countries on specific issues, was in 2010. That debate, led by the late Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, was the one in which the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, made his maiden speech, so I am delighted that he is joining us again today. I certainly hope it will not be as long again before we have the next general debate.

There are lots of facts, figures and statistics that could be quoted in this context. I have chosen not to do so, but I thank the House of Lords Library for its excellent briefing, which contains many of them. I point to the launch of the Canning House LatAm Outlook, published on Tuesday this week, which presents a comprehensive look ahead at the next five years and gives all the necessary facts and figures. I have been able only to touch on many of the important issues, but I know that others will both broaden the debate and add more detail.

No country can do it alone. We live in an interdependent world, because of trade and security, and a world in which there is much conflict, so we certainly need friends. I believe that in Latin American countries we will find good and enduring friendships and relationships. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Labour 3:23, 7 December 2023

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, whom I dare defy the conventions of the House in addressing as my noble friend, for we have worked together for many years on matters of common interest. I should have been in Wales today, but the GWR train drivers are on strike so I find myself here; otherwise, clearly, I would have had to wait another 10 years before having another opportunity to express my views. I hope she will not mind—and I think I know her mind well enough to know that she will not—if I broaden the geographical area to include the Caribbean. I must declare that I have the role of co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Haiti.

I particularly draw attention to a recent meeting in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia that took place between 15 Caricom countries and the Saudi Arabian Government, with representation from the very top levels of Government there. That was much-vaunted. There was a huge amount of money from soft loan and development funds for various projects on island republics scattered through the Caribbean. It seems so recently it was China whose pervasive presence in the region we might have wanted to comment about, but Saudi Arabia is making a pitch for it now. Interestingly, of course, it was a sweetener because it not only sought but won the support of the Caribbean nations for the bid by Saudi Arabia to host Expo 2030 and later the 2034 football World Cup. Mutual interest, perhaps, was served.

Also in the Caribbean, we can note that Belize, in the light of what has been happening in the Middle East, has suspended diplomatic relations with Israel. Guyana and Venezuela are caught up in a pretty bitter dispute about a piece of land—it is Nagorno-Karabakh or Kashmir all over again, really—that they might go to war over because there are considerable deposits of oil found there that they are now contesting the right to exploit. Indeed, a contingent from the United States Department of Defense is arriving in Guyana shortly. Since coming into the Chamber, on my iPhone—yes, I too look at it now and again—I noticed that the Guyanese high commissioner is coming here, hotfoot, to discuss with our Government how we might help them in resolving the dispute with Venezuela.

Of course, all that brings me, inevitably, as my noble friend will know, to the island of Hispaniola. It is an island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti. What is going on in the Dominican Republic? It is extraordinary: its Parliament has just approved loans of $1.2 billion for a number of projects. It is expanding the number of free-zone companies for example, which bring in a lot of money through the tourist industry. It is investing in infrastructure—a number of projects related to better water supplies are being financed from this loan. Then, of all the things I would never have thought of, in Santo Domingo, which I have visited more than once, it is opening up, as a new project, a second metro line under Santo Domingo to improve transport across the city.

While in Riyadh, President Abinader of the Dominican Republic met with—and I pause for dramatic effect at this point—former Prime Minister Tony Blair, in order to pursue a conversation with him to improve bilateral relationships between the Dominican Republic and the United Kingdom. There is nothing wrong with that. They also discussed the apportioning of water from a river in the north of Haiti and the Dominican Republic—it is on the border, in fact. Rather gruesomely it is the Massacre River, so-named because in 1937 untold numbers—tens of thousands—of Haitians were massacred there as they sought to cross it. So, the water from that river has become contentious, and our former Prime Minister has been drawn into discussions about how to apportion that. Of course, I want to suggest an equal voice and presence in those discussions be given to people from the Haitian side of the river, because it does flow down the middle of those two countries.

Former Prime Minister Blair also talked to the current ad interim Prime Minister, Monsieur Ariel Henry. He is head of government, head of state, head of everything in Haiti: the only person who represents anything in Haiti in these chaotic days. It is a gruesome time there, with gangs and kidnapping and drugs. There is a total breakdown of order and no constitutional arrangements of any kind whatever. I happen to be working with one or two people who are known internationally for having found a way to create a positive future out of chaotic elements. I am hoping that the presence of such people now might just turn things round in Haiti. I lived there for 10 years; I was ordained as a Methodist minister there and my two children were born there. In so many ways, I have taken into myself a desire to advocate the cause of Haiti for as long as I draw breath—which is of course exactly the time that I shall be a Member of this House.

It is so important to realise how fragile all the constitutional arrangements in Haiti have been since it had the temerity to declare its independence, with its slaves overthrowing the French army under the leadership of General Leclerc—the brother-in-law of Napoleon, no less. It was in Haiti, not at Waterloo, that Napoleon’s might was challenged successfully for the first time. But for all that, since then there has been systematic rape, extortion and extraction of all the minerals and other resources of Haiti—raping it and giving it debts that it could never repay. If we talk about reparation—and in the light of Black Lives Matter, that and decolonisation are mentioned quite a lot—Haiti has the first claim. It ought to be first at the table. There is a quantifiable indebtedness or indemnity that was paid by Haiti for its freedom. The Haitian ex-slaves had to pay France for its independence; they had no money to do it with and took out huge loans on the international markets, which Haiti has spent the next 200 years repaying. It is an astonishing piece of theft and dubious politics.

I could go on. If I had 80 minutes instead of eight, I could break all of that down—but who will come to the rescue of unfashionable Haiti? He has gone now, but the noble Lord, Lord Swire, who was sitting over there, was the only government Minister I ever had anything to do with who took Haiti seriously. The United Nations and the Organisation of American States have both failed. There has been no success so far. Something must be done for a country that is 90 minutes’ flying time from America, and all the chaos that reigns there needs to be addressed. I have no proposals or questions to ask the Minister because I am still searching in my head to know how to frame and focus them. However, he is a man of considerable wisdom and experience. He can frame his own questions, guess at my desires and, I hope, begin to give me some hope in the matter.

Photo of Baroness Coussins Baroness Coussins Crossbench 3:32, 7 December 2023

My Lords, Latin America is often overlooked or underestimated in its relevance and importance to the UK. The recent White Paper on international development, for example, contains only a tiny handful of specific references to this vast continent, despite prioritising some strategic themes of central concern within Latin America, in which the UK has a critical mutual interest and an established global leadership that could be leveraged more proactively, such as on human rights and business responsibility.

I am going to confine my remarks today to an issue of urgent concern in Peru and Colombia, where the UK is in a unique position to take the right initiatives to prevent further harm and redress existing problems. This is the impact of mining on the rights of indigenous populations and the environment. I declare my interests as a past president of the Peru Support Group and my involvement in another human rights NGO, ABColombia, under whose auspices I visited Colombia to evaluate progress in implementing the peace accord of 2016. I am grateful to both organisations for their excellent briefings and valuable work.

Mentioning the peace accord brings me to the first point of why the UK has such responsibility and influence in this matter: we are of course the penholder in the Security Council for the Colombian peace process. Added to which, we were—and I hope, remain—a leading voice at the UN in support of the principles of business and human rights, known as the Ruggie principles.

The third strand of UK interest is that the main mining company currently responsible for controversial activity, Glencore plc, is listed on the London Stock Exchange and receives funding and investment from UK financial institutions. A group of Peruvian and Colombian environmental and human rights defenders were in the UK only last week. Many of us met them and heard about the existential threats they are up against to preserve their land, way of life, food, water and health in the face of mining developments by Glencore.

The Cerrejón mine in La Guajira, Colombia, is wholly owned by Glencore and is one of the largest open-pit coal mines in the world. Its expansion over four decades has led to environmental degradation and serious human rights impacts. Studies show air pollution in excess of WHO recommended limits and in breach of limits imposed by the Colombian courts, raising the risk of cancer, DNA damage and chromosomal instability for those living in the region. The mine also consumes and contaminates significant quantities of water. The Ranchería River has unsafe levels of harmful metals, including mercury and lead, as a result of liquid waste being dumped in it, resulting in water scarcity, food scarcity, illness and disease.

Guajira is the ancestral land of the Wayuu people and many of their communities have been displaced to make way for the mine. Afro-Colombian and campesino communities have also been displaced, with evictions sometimes being carried out with armed guards, tear gas and metal projectiles. In 2016, bulldozers were used to destroy an Afro-Colombian village.

In Peru, where the UK is the largest foreign direct investor, it is a similar story. A recent report examined Glencore’s mining activities in the Espinar region, the ancestral territory of the Quechua and K’ana indigenous peoples, who are being exposed to levels of heavy metals, including mercury and arsenic, beyond what is permissible under international standards.

Water is contaminated and proposed further expansion is set to exacerbate fragmentation of communities and loss of territory, in breach of ILO Convention 169 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, including by paying inadequate attention to consulting those affected in order to obtain free, prior and informed consent before entire communities are displaced.

Also common to both countries is the acute vulnerability of environmental and human rights defenders. In recent years the number killed in Colombia has been unprecedented and only last week in Peru an indigenous leader was gunned down after a meeting about defending land against illegal loggers and cocaine producers.

Colombia’s constitutional court has ruled that Glencore should not pursue further expansion, saying that large-scale mining puts the environment and health at risk. Glencore’s response has been to sue the Colombian Government, using the investor-to-state dispute settlement mechanism, the ISDS, which forms part of the Colombia-UK bilateral investment treaty, the BIT. The ISDS process is secretive and therefore undemocratic and places enforceable obligations only on states, meaning that investors, such as Glencore, can win cases even if they have violated domestic law or international standards. Awards can run into millions of dollars and have led to several countries, including Australia and Brazil, omitting ISDS mechanisms from their trade agreements. Indeed, between 2017 and 2021, only one-third of trade agreements contained ISDS clauses and other countries such as Canada and the US are qualifying their use.

The ISDS is effectively a barrier to the proper implementation of the Colombian peace accord, delaying action on climate change and human rights, and legislation to protect health. The UK therefore, as UN penholder, has a special responsibility to act to mitigate this damage and I ask the Minister whether the Government will look seriously and urgently at terminating the UK-Colombia bilateral investment treaty, whose initial term expires in October 2024, but with automatic renewal for an indefinite period.

The Minister will know that if it is terminated unilaterally, a sunset clause of 15 years would protect existing investments and cause untold further damage to communities and the environment, not to mention the success of the peace accord, which should be being strengthened by President Petro’s “Total Peace” policy, not undermined by a British-listed mining company operating in defiance of Colombian law. An end to the BIT by mutual consent would neutralise the sunset clause, so I urge the noble Lord to initiate negotiations with this objective. This would be a major practical step, demonstrating the UK’s commitment to its responsibility as penholder. We have already helped the Colombian Government achieve an expansion of the UN mission of verification to include monitoring of the ELN peace process, and the Government deserve credit and congratulations for that. I hope the Minister will now build on that by acting as I have suggested on the BIT.

On Peru, I ask the noble Lord to raise with his opposite numbers in Peru the case for halting Glencore’s proposed mining expansion until it has produced a genuine environmental impact assessment and an opportunity for communities to give informed consent.

Finally, I ask the Minister if he will now support new legislation to mandate due diligence in supply chains and to hold commercial organisations accountable for their impacts on human rights and the environment. This would be in line with our commitment to the Ruggie principles and demonstrate on the international stage that the UK can walk the walk as well as talk the talk. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will agree to seek government support for the Private Member’s Bill introduced last week by my noble friend Lady Young of Hornsey, which would enact these much-needed provisions. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to the issues and questions I have raised, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for the opportunity to raise them.

Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative 3:41, 7 December 2023

My Lords, the House is truly indebted to my noble friend. There is nobody that I am aware of, in either House, who has the depth of knowledge that she has—and not just the knowledge but the knowledge put to good use. My noble friend the Minister knows that I have a very long association with South Asia going back about 70 years, but I am a relative newcomer to this region of the world. It started because the revered late Speaker in the other place, Betty Boothroyd, asked me in the summer of 1992 to lead a delegation on behalf of Parliament to go to Stanley and pay our respects to the losses we suffered, but the joy that the Falklands remained in our friendship and part of our Commonwealth.

I went, and that began to open my eyes, quite frankly. It is an incredible part of the world. A year later, my wife and I went on a vacation to Antarctica, visiting the research stations there and looking at the sheer beauty of that part of the world, but also the extent of the ice shelf and the then not really understood challenges associated with that. For myself, unfortunately I lost my seat in 1997, the marginal seat of Northampton, having been its first-ever Conservative Member. I said to my beloved, “We are both interested in wine; why don’t you go and find somewhere in the world, in the new world, where wine is important in the country?” She came back and said, “Right: I have found a small travel agent who will take three couples, and we are all going to Chile”. So, we went to Chile. Obviously, I went and saw the ambassador beforehand, and said we were going. Remarkably, when we went through passport control, the first words said to me in Chile were, “You are enormously welcome in my country”. You do not often get that at passport control elsewhere in the world.

Out of that, I led another delegation a couple of years later and I discussed with the then Chilean Ambassador that I was already a member of the Ordre Des Coteaux De Champagne and the Commanderie de Bordeaux a Londres. I said, “How would you feel if I tried to start a Chilean wine group?” I did not know that he was a master of wine when I asked him that, and the answer was very positive. I started the Cofradía del vino Chileno and we celebrated last evening, at the Caledonian club, with 54 people, the majority of whom are Chileans who are over here. But there is a good core of British people there and we thoroughly enjoyed one of Chile’s leading houses, Montes, and there were about half a dozen others.

When I first went to Chile, there were really no leading houses as such. One of the great jobs done by the Chileans, in our country, was to recognise that the original wines that came here were pretty bog standard—they were ordinary table wines. Today some of the finest wines we taste, particularly on a blind-tasting basis, come from Chile. That is how I lost my heart to Chile.

As it happens, 2023 is the 200th anniversary of the appointment of Great Britain’s first consul-general to Chile, in1823, which is auspicious in itself. I am so pleased that our Foreign Secretary made such a challenging speech in Chile, trying to say to the world that the countries of South America need to be more greatly involved in what is happening in the world. It was an outstanding and timely speech, and it was a huge help. There is another, practical side, which will help a bit. There was a 9% increase in bilateral trade between the UK and Chile in 2022. We now have a UK-Chile modernisation roadmap and have also agreed a memorandum of understanding on the development of the financial sector. Both those should boost international bilateral trade.

Chile itself has shown initiative by joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, otherwise known as CPTPP. Thanks to my noble friend and his team on the Front Bench we were the first European country to join the organisation. That is real initiative, so well done. What will that do? It will reduce red tape for trade between Chile and the UK, simplify the import-export process, reduce tariffs on imported goods and could—and should—lead to cheaper prices for some consumer products we get here in Britain, such as fruit juices.

There are opportunities there, and I think they are very exciting. In addition, I understand we have pledged £2 million to support academic exchanges and capacity-building projects in the lithium industry, which is pretty important to the future of the electric vehicle industry. Also, I am very pleased that we are building a scholarship programme for outstanding students. On the educational front, in which I am involved, it could extend a little further into the younger age groups.

In October 2023, a few weeks ago, the UK and Chile signed a renewed partnership agreement on Antarctica. We must just reflect on where the Falklands are in relation to there.

I just make one plea. We have no ambassador from Chile here at the moment. I urge my noble friend the Minister to say to the Chileans that we want to work with them, and we believe in what they are trying to do: could they please send us another ambassador, because the ambassador provides the leadership? It is okay at the moment, but I would hope that early in the new year we will see a new ambassador. The last one was female; the one before was male. I do not mind who they are: I just want them to come over here and join this very exciting country and the development it does. How good it was to go to Richmond upon Thames, a few months ago, to see the monument to Bernardo O’Higgins, who gave them independence, and resided in Richmond upon Thames.

Photo of Lord Brennan Lord Brennan Non-affiliated 3:49, 7 December 2023

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on introducing this debate, which is so important. I remind the House of my interests in Latin America, which are set out in the register, including advising companies and investors on how get into Latin America and once they are there to make a success of it, and vice versa, from there to here. My wife is patron of the Anglo Latin American Foundation, which supports poor and needy children on that continent.

Our country’s relationship with the countries of Latin America has been of historic duration. A key figure was George Canning. As Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister in the 1820s, he chose to persuade our Government to recognise the new countries and states that were setting themselves up on the Latin American continent. He shared wisdom and foresight, hence his statue in Parliament Square, put up within a few years of his death, and hence the blue plaque on his house in Berkeley Square. It says simply but nobly “George Canning”, his birth and death years below, and, in the middle, one word: “statesman”. He recognised the creation of a group of nations that had a long-term future with which we should be associated.

Let us remember that it is not just the rich and famous companies or people who went to Latin America. Cornish tin miners mined in Mexico when tin stopped being mined in Cornwall. Welsh farmers set up farms in Patagonia, and the Welsh community there is still extant a couple of hundred years later. In London now, we count ourselves lucky to have top-class diplomats from these countries, working hard in their interests and ours, two of whom are in the Gallery today, from Peru and Costa Rica.

What about the future? Latin America is approaching 700 million people. They are educated people, with a high literacy rate in most countries. They know what they are doing. It is the largest net food exporter territory in the world. The beef exports are world famous. The next time you buy a tin of Fray Bentos, have a look. Fray Bentos was the port in Uruguay through which the beef in the tin came from there to here—hence Fray Bentos, started by the Vestey family here in England.

Argentina has a huge shale field for oil and gas. Brazil, Argentina and Mexico are three very important countries for oil and gas. As for renewable energy, solar intensity is very high in some areas of Latin America. The winds are long and strong in some areas. They are ready for renewable energy and for us to help them.

The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, mentioned Guyana, which is a member of the British Commonwealth. It was colonised as a new country by us in the 18th and 19th centuries. Last Friday, 1 December, the International Court of Justice, in front of which there is a case about the territorial claim by Venezuela, made a statement requiring Venezuela not to take any action involving Guyana until the court had made a judgment. I trust that our Government will stand by that attitude of the ICJ. On Sunday in Venezuela, a “referendum vote”—in inverted commas—is supposed to have asked the people of the country to help invade the disputed territory, which has plenty of oil and gas. We must help as and when required—certainly, diplomatically.

There is plenty of mining of the strategic minerals of lithium and nickel in the southern Andes. We have listed on our stock exchange the largest precious metals company in Mexico, Fresnillo, and the largest mining company in Peru, Hochschild, because we value the benefit of their business internationally.

I turn to the climate change of the future. Of all the global places about which we have heard, the Amazon rainforest is probably the last place where the world is breathing safely. Let us help Brazil in particular to look after that important sector.

Let us be careful, because China is in Latin America—big time. The trade between China and Argentina is measured in billions of US dollars. China is helping to build a new railway system in Argentina, and—hear this—it wants to open a Chinese subsidiary port in a place called Ushuaia in the deep south of Argentina, opposite the Falklands and next to Antarctica. It is on the Atlantic coast, not the Chinese-facing Pacific. This is serious stuff.

Therefore, let us look for a balanced relationship. This is an important part of the world. Its countries will look to us in the future as they have done in the past. As we start the third century of our long-term relationships, let us go to it.

Photo of Lord Mountevans Lord Mountevans Crossbench 3:58, 7 December 2023

My Lords, I join other Members in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on securing this important debate. She is a champion for closer relations with Latin America. As a distinguished former president of Canning House, she is, quite frankly, an inspiration. I declare my own unremunerated interest as the current honorary president of Canning House, which is now in its 80th year. It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, another of its former presidents.

According to my latest figures, Latin America has a population of around 650 million, almost double that of the United States and 10 times that of the UK. Three of the largest cities in the world by population are located there, and the region is the second-most urbanised in the world, with 78% of people living in cities.

However, as we have heard, it is a very sad fact that Latin America, in general, does not receive the attention in Britain that it deserves. At a time of great international concern, it is deeply regrettable but perhaps understandable that Latin America is not higher on the Government’s list of priorities.

As CEO of Canning House and former Latin America Minister in the coalition Government, Jeremy Browne, writes in the introduction to our latest review of the region, the LatAm Outlook 2024, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, mentioned and was published just two days ago—I commend it highly to those with an interest in Latin America—there is a

“danger … that Britain overlooks Latin America, not consciously, but because there are always bigger distractions elsewhere”.

This is most unfortunate, as Latin America is an important partner for Britain across a whole range of interests. There is real friendship from many of these countries dating back to their independence, where, in most instances, the UK played a significant part.

In the 19th century, Britain had a huge hand in developing the coffee trade, building railways and much more. The longest traded share on the London Stock Exchange is that of the Chilean copper miner Antofagasta. I have personally enjoyed great friendship in Chile, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Panama and Costa Rica in business, as sheriff and then Lord Mayor of London, and with a son now living and marrying in Costa Rica.

The great majority of the Latin American countries are democracies. A number of them, including Chile, Peru and Argentina, have in the recent past come through intense elections, opting for major change, but accomplished correctly, in each case according to their constitutions. The remarkable political maturity that much of Latin America has demonstrated recently is something we should commend and support. We are told that autocracies now outnumber democracies. I ask the Minister, who is held in such high regard in this Chamber, to confirm that the very status of established democracy is an important consideration for our Government when looking at Latin America.

There would appear to be no early likelihood of armed conflict—I leave aside questions of Guyana and, sadly, now Venezuela—between any Latin American nations. Leaving aside internal conflicts, to which I shall return, these are peace-loving countries. None of them has nuclear capabilities.

Latin America is an obvious ally for the UK on climate change. The region is often cited as a custodian of the Amazon. A number of countries in central America—Costa Rica, Panama and Ecuador—enjoy the remarkable distinction of being at or close to carbon neutrality. More broadly, it is a world-leading region in the utilisation of non-carbon energy.

With more than half of the world’s known reserves of lithium and more than 40% of known copper reserves, the region is of great interest to China, the United States and Europe. It is also the world’s biggest net exporter of food, as we have heard, with an estimated 18% of all global food exports by 2031. The region is a source of significant additional oil and gas production, notably from Brazil and Guyana—I strongly support the remarks made about the need to guarantee that country’s security. We should not overlook the vast potential for shale gas in Argentina. At a time when much of the world is looking to avoid Russian oil and gas, and it makes sense not to be overdependent on the Middle East, this is a clear opportunity for Latin America.

Along with its significant hydroelectric power, major potential for solar and wind generation, and the promise of green hydrogen, Latin America has a great deal going for it—so what is holding it back? It is certainly not China, which has been investing heavily. It recognises the important resources and potential of the region. In particular, it has invested heavily in rare minerals. Apparently, this has not been achieved by any underhand methods; it has been buying companies on the open market. The reality is that China takes a very long-term view, often in contrast to what might be termed the West. Further, with its absolutist structure, with government, business and finance aligned, it has the ability to move rapidly and progress at pace. There is a clear contrast with the West. Latin American trade with China has grown, while there has been limited growth with the US and Europe. In 2000, Latin American trade with China stood at $12.5 billion. By 2021, it stood at $450 billion. The view has been expressed that Latin America wants to avoid replacing one hegemony, the United States, with another, China. This is a clear opportunity for Britain and Europe.

In my view, the biggest obstacles to western investment are transport infrastructure, security and corruption. Although living standards have been rising, and with a growing middle class, there remains considerable poverty throughout the region. Poverty and, in some cases, remoteness from positive government influence and intervention have shaped a growing trade in narcotics, particularly cocaine, which represents an horrific epidemic, particularly in North America and Europe. I personally have difficulty blaming all that on Latin American countries, where local poverty and remoteness stimulate the growing of illegal crops, feeding the demand for well-to-do individuals in rich countries. With this demand come whole structures of often sophisticated illegal transport, sometimes affecting countries just because they have very good infrastructure. It is easy to say, but we must find a way to eliminate the enrichment of callous lawbreakers wherever they are, but not least in Latin America, where they are holding countries back, spawning lawlessness and discouraging investment.

Given its enormous land mass, Latin America is important in terms of geopolitics, international trade and freedom of navigation. Britain has close defence ties with Chile, defence co-operation with Brazil and a history of seeking to assist the Government of Colombia in its challenges with the narcotics industry. On the other hand, the disputed sovereignty of the Falkland Islands has been a thorny matter in relations with Argentina and, to an extent, the wider region.

This is a vital time for UK business and trade. Our competitors, not only China but elsewhere in Asia, North America and Europe, are not sitting around. The government support and encouragement is vital. I was impressed by the contents of a paper presented by the business specialist for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Department for Business and Trade. Good work is going on to make trade easier. For example, there are now eight double taxation agreements, including with Brazil, and the shiny new agreement with the CPTPP, among other positive developments. She drew attention to areas of opportunity, including fintech, where there are many highly tech-savvy individuals in Latin America. In general, IT is growing much faster in these countries than national income.

This is perhaps a good moment to mention how fortunate we are to have an exceptionally engaged Minister for Latin America in David Rutley, and we are also fortunate to have some dedicated diplomats in post in the region. We are also blessed with an excellent cadre of Latin American diplomats here in London.

In the post-Brexit era, with an outward-looking Britain, it is particularly important that the UK builds relationships with increased exports. The good will and friendship of many Latin Americans towards the UK is well known. We have much on our side to encourage, but we must first grow British awareness of the value and attraction of the region.

Photo of Lord Liddle Lord Liddle Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 4:07, 7 December 2023

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on obtaining this debate; the interval since the last one has been unacceptably long. In her career, both here and as a Member of the European Parliament, she has always been an assiduous worker for the progressive causes to which she has devoted her life.

It is a pleasure to take part in this debate. I am not a specialist in Latin American affairs, but my interest in the area was aroused when I had the good fortune to work in the Labour Governments from 1997 to 2010. As part of that, I met some remarkable people. I met Presidents Lagos and Bachelet of Chile and saw how that country was putting the terrible experience of the Pinochet dictatorship behind it, but in an extremely impressive spirit of generosity and wanting to forgive the past.

I also met President Lula da Silva, who is one of the most remarkable political figures of our age, given his emergence from a poverty-stricken background to become a trade union leader and then President of his great country. Of course he has his faults, but to my mind he grasped the essentials of being a progressive politician. He recognised that he had to work very strongly with the private sector to develop Brazil’s enormous economic potential, but at the same time he was very committed to tackling poverty. Many children and poor families in Brazil benefited from his admirable social programme, which introduced a form of child benefit for every Brazilian family.

Of course, Britain used to be very important in the region, and many noble Lords have referred to George Canning to prove that. I am certainly aware of its importance, as I am from Cumberland and I know that Workington Iron & Steel produced many of the steel rails that built the railways of South America. I am afraid that the days of our imperialist economic success are not going to return. But I am also a child of the post-war era, and we would never have survived without South American ham and corned beef, as we were still on the ration until 1954.

Let me just make a few big points. First, thinking about South America enables us to think about some of the biggest challenges of our time. People have referred to climate change and the paradox of the need to preserve the Amazonian forest while, at the same time, the exploitation of the continent’s minerals and raw materials is a massive opportunity for us all. We need to strike the right balance that results in environmental sustainability.

Secondly, the drugs trade, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, is relevant to Europe but obviously very relevant to South America. It is easy to be critical, but one has to remember the needs of some of the poor peasants who survive as a result of this trade. We have to find a different way to give them economic opportunity.

Thirdly, and most importantly, some speakers referred to the growth of democracy in Latin America. That is very encouraging, and we need to think about how to sustain it. At the same time, I am worried that, on the Ukraine conflict, which for me is an existential defence of democracy, so many people from countries in Latin America, Africa and elsewhere do not automatically and instinctively think of it as a battle for the fundamental rights of democracy. They do not understand it, and this is a great worry.

One of my suggestions to the Minister, even though this is not his area of responsibility, is to think seriously about Britain’s role in this part of the world. As a starting point, I would like an audit of British soft power in Latin America and how we can make more of it—of the British Council, the World Service, the links between universities in Britain and Latin America, and the research opportunities that Latin America offers us. Our universities can also bring an even greater understanding of their culture, history and language. The Government could do that: they could bring everybody together and find a way to get more value from what we already do.

The other thing that we have to think about more seriously is our trade and development strategy for the region. Trade is an issue that I have always followed closely, ever since I worked in the Commission. Last week, I saw that the EU has abandoned its attempt to secure a trade deal with Mercosur, at least for the moment. Now that we have an independent trade policy, what is Britain’s trade strategy in Latin America? How do we relate that to our development strategy? It seems to me that we cannot go to countries and say, “We’ll trade with you only if you do environmentally acceptable things”, if we, as a comparatively rich country, are not prepared to offer aid and development in order to make sure that it is easier for those countries to do the right thing on such issues. Trade and development must be linked, and I am not convinced—this is not a party-political point—that that linkage has so far been established. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

Photo of The Earl of Effingham The Earl of Effingham Conservative 4:15, 7 December 2023

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Hooper for bringing forward this important debate. Although noble Lords will not find it on my entry in the register of interests, I am proud to say that my wife is Peruvian and I have been a regular visitor to the country for the past 27 years. I want to take this opportunity to highlight its economic developments, our relationship with Peru and the possibilities that we can seize upon, which will benefit both the UK and Peru.

When I first arrived at Jorge Chávez Airport in Lima on a warm, sunny day in December 1996, nothing could quite have prepared me for what was about to happen. I walked out of the relatively controlled arrivals area into a cacophony of hundreds of gentlemen shouting “Taxi!” at the top of their voices. The road from the airport to the residential area of Lima was lined with cars that would have been most unlikely to pass their MoT in the UK. It was also clear that, unfortunately, this was a country where poverty and economic hardship were borne by a number of the population.

Fast-forward 27 years and the Lima that I first encountered back then has been completely transformed. There is now a well-maintained three-lane highway from the airport, lined with shopping centres and restaurants. The old cars have, for the most part, been replaced by shiny new vehicles, and less of the population appears to be experiencing difficulty. Once-makeshift towns are now areas bustling with communities, shops, restaurants and roads. There are new residential developments all over the city, and future buildings appear like mushrooms at every visit. There is a burgeoning middle class, growing from around 15% in 2006 to 34% in 2019, made possible by access to capital in the form of mortgages and loans. Consumer spending has risen as more and more people are lifted out of poverty and the country’s middle class expands. To be clear, poverty levels are still too high: there was a steady decline from 57% in 2004 down to 20% pre pandemic but that had risen back to 28% in 2022, and those in the middle class have dropped from 43% down to 20% as a result of the recent global economic turbulence. However, we should remain optimistic that this can trend back to pre-pandemic levels.

Peru’s economic success has been driven by mining, agriculture, natural resources and tourism. The statistics tell the story. The country has the world’s largest reserve of silver, at 98,000 metric tonnes, as well as significant reserves of gold, lead and zinc. Peru provides half of the world’s supply of the superfood quinoa. Breathtaking experiences such as Machu Picchu, Cusco—the capital of the Inca empire—and untouched rainforest complete with pink dolphins, jaguars and river otters are all part of the scenery. The country boasts more than 4,000 species of butterfly and 2,100 species of fish, both respectively the largest species numbers of their kind in the world.

It is no surprise that, of all Spain’s colonial conquests on that continent, it was in Lima that it decided to install its viceroy. Peru was the jewel in the crown as far as it was concerned. It is also worth flagging that Peru has three distinct regions—the coast, the jungle and the mountains—each with its own unique climate, gastronomy, culture and trade opportunity. Peru has 28 of the world’s 32 climate zones, and it is this rich and deep diversity which, in my mind, makes Peru one of the key Latin American countries that we should continue to develop ever-stronger links with.

As recently as October of this year, we celebrated the 200th anniversary of our bilateral relationship. The UK is one of the leading investors in Peru. Our very own Hay Literary Festival, which promotes culture and social responsibility, takes place every year in Arequipa, the birthplace of Peru’s most famous Nobel Prize-winning writer, Mario Vargas Llosa. The previous Foreign Minister was one of over 270 Peruvian Chevening scholars who have been welcomed in the UK over the years.

The reintroduction of direct London to Lima flights will commence this month; the removal of short-term visa requirements just over a year ago for Peruvians visiting the UK will open up further partnership opportunities on business, tourism and trade; and, following accession to the CPTPP, UK business visitors will also enjoy an extended length of stay in Peru.

From a trade perspective, UK exports were £373 million in 2023, and the UK is now the most important European market for Peru. Peruvian exports of liquefied natural gas to the UK hit over £1 billion between November 2021 and March 2022, versus just over £80 million over the three-year period prior to that.

There are many reasons we can be confident that our relationship will continue to grow and that bilateral trade and investment will increase, but there are a number of areas which merit further consideration.

Notwithstanding the CPTPP agreement, what are the Government doing additionally to help UK SMEs diversify their supply chains and look to Peru, and indeed Latin America, as a partner? The Peruvian economy is well known to the likes of Anglo American and Rio Tinto, but what about our smaller companies, which could undoubtedly benefit from engaging in trade with their Peruvian and Latin American counterparts, but for which the continent is simply not on the radar? For example, in the fertiliser sector, small and medium-sized Peruvian farms are importing high-tech machinery to improve quality and production capacity. British-made machinery could surely compete in that space.

Many nutritionists say that, if they had to save one country in the world after a disaster, it would be Peru, due to the abundance of its superfoods such as quinoa, which is now a staple in many parts of the globe. When paired with exercise, these superfoods should promote physical and mental well-being. Given the ever-increasing importance of this post pandemic, I ask the Minister: what are the Government doing to increase trade in these types of superfoods from Latin America and encourage consumption as part of a nationwide health and well-being strategy?

In summary, there are many ways in which the UK and Peru can enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship across a variety of industries, trade and knowledge sharing. Accession to the CPTPP will be a great enhancement, but there are still many other opportunities for us to pursue.

Photo of Viscount Waverley Viscount Waverley Crossbench 4:24, 7 December 2023

My Lords, there is nobody more qualified than the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, to lead on this debate, with her good name being synonymous with Latin America and much respected by all there. I remember like yesterday her counselling me all those years ago. Thank goodness for that. I remember her words to the letter while I was preparing my first remarks in your Lordships’ House on the very subject that brings us together today.

What has changed? Not a lot, in a word. While for us band of aficionados, Latin America remains front and centre, the cancer of corruption stifling growth continues, drugs and security issues prevail, and the steady northbound economic migration trek for the impoverished continues unabated, with the result that Latin America has hitherto not reached its potential. A sense of despair drives migrants northwards to the US border, and has even become an established route attracting Chinese, who make the perilous trek through the Darién Gap. We urgently need the 10-year evaluation, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury recently called for, to understand and implement counter-migration measures.

The question of whether or not Argentina signs off on BRICS membership, as was agreed in Johannesburg, and the averting of hyperinflation, together with whether to support dollarisation, awaits. Brazil’s President Lula may have miscalculated, for it was he who proposed that Argentina be admitted into an expanded BRICS to counter China, by supporting a regional ally at the table. Whatever the outcome, engaging and working together with China, with its initiatives and expanding presence in the Latin American-Caribbean region, is causing growing anxiety in the United States.

The continuing existence of the long-stagnant Mercosur is potentially under threat with a potential withdrawal of Argentina, following the Trump-like decision to withdraw from the CPTPP and, dare one say it, a trend that followed on from our EU withdrawal. The need for alternative sources of financing, possibly through the New Development Bank, with Argentina’s reserves at near zero and the peso plummeting, will probably focus minds, but we await inauguration and consequential decisions from mid-December.

It will certainly be interesting to see how the across-the-board political spectrum, with Brazil’s centre-left President together with Colombia’s ultra-left-wing President interacting with Argentina’s incoming far-right libertarian President, plays out.

Regrettably, I too turn our minds to Guyana, a fellow member of the Commonwealth, which is facing extreme pressure from a possible land grab by Venezuela, in defiance of a UN court decision. It is imperative that the international community stands firm against President Maduro saying that he will immediately proceed to grant operating licences for the exploration and exploitation of oil, gas and mines in the Essequibo region. Yesterday, Secretary of State Blinken with the Guyanese President reaffirmed the United States’ unwavering support for Guyana’s sovereignty.

The people of Venezuela voted to support this in a referendum, but they will ultimately suffer the consequences. They should be aware in no uncertain terms that a land grab will end in tears. Venezuela can assuredly say goodbye to regional legitimacy if it follows through on armed and unprovoked aggression. Some analysts suggest this is a possible co-ordinated geopolitical action to drive down oil prices and receive domestic support for a battered autocracy. Without in any way knowing for certain, but understanding the relationship between Russia and Venezuela, it would come as no surprise if the dark arts of the Kremlin were lurking somewhere in the background as an anti-Western distraction. This needs to be nipped in the bud as a matter of urgency; I call today for immediate sanctions to be applied on Maduro and the lead general engineering this. Does the Minister agree? If so, will he say so unequivocally in his summing up, including speaking on other measures the Government are proposing to implement?

The UK should be co-ordinating with Mercosur and the OAS and with other regional policy mechanisms to lower tensions. Co-ordinating with President Macron, as another example, would also be no bad thing given the regional play of Total, particularly in French Guiana. It is better and cheaper to hedge through diplomacy than commit resources on the ground. However, as a fallback, I believe Brazil could step in, not least because it has economic interests in Guyana or, if there be reluctance by President Lula, Chile’s President Boric could be an option to support, alongside Uruguayan and Paraguayan elements.

However, none of what I have described should detract from the reality that the region at large presents tremendous opportunity and hope for the future. There is the boundless energy, beauty and charm of the place: from the lakes of southern Chile to the Pampas of Argentina to the grandeur of the Foz do Iguaço to the shores of northern Brazil to the spectacular Andean countries and Colombia’s coffee growing region and on into Mexico, where all the richness and culture and past history that that country provides makes it a haven.

In trade terms, the UK is on the cusp of CPTPP membership and will be joining, as has already been said, Mexico, Peru and Chile as partners. I commend the Peruvian authorities for bringing their priorities to the attention of the UK recently, and I place on record how impressed I was by the innovative speech of President Peña of Paraguay, who in his recent COP address underlined how Paraguay is crucial in food and energy security, has enormous awareness about the environment and is taking steps to be considered as an example in this field.

The importance of Brazil on the world stage can never be passed over. During the remainder of President Lula’s current tenure, Brazil will be at the forefront and greatly influencing world affairs with the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council and through the Mercosur alliance and the BRICS group. It has also just taken over the presidency of the G20 from India.

I too congratulate and welcome the newly arrived ambassador for Colombia, and I shall say a more detailed word for the record on Colombia, a country with which I have a close association. Since my time there, I am to understand that many Brits have made their home there. Colombia is a generous host to over 1 million Venezuelans looking for better work opportunities and living conditions. The technology and innovation environment is growing, with foreign investment providing funding and bringing talent by new visa types that allow digital nomads to reside and receive benefits from the Government. Fruit and vegetable exports are growing, with new European economic ties helping the economy, but coffee demand is volatile. On the downside, however, private construction has dropped by about 50%, with infrastructure projects by 25%, and the peso has suffered a big devaluation but is now managing to stabilise.

There is much that needs to be said on such a vast and important subject, but I save my concluding remark with a final message to our friends in Argentina: learn from history and hands off the Falklands.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 4:32, 7 December 2023

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Viscount. When I was in the Chamber, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, highlighted to me the slight mix-up in the speaking order on the list. There was a degree of disappointment, because I had a frisson of excitement that I was finally going to be speaking on behalf of His Majesty’s loyal Opposition —I might have to wait a few months for that.

This has been a really good debate, because there has been a mix of the professional, with real depth of experience, and personal too, especially from the noble Earl, Lord Effingham—he may have just missed out the variety of potatoes, but other than that he offered the whole sweep of Peru, which left me thinking that, when we end this debate, it might be a perfect time for a pisco sour, so perhaps His Excellency might be able to provide some refreshments at the end. I hope that the excellent ambassador for Peru and his colleagues took heart from this debate and from the strength of feeling about ensuring that the UK’s relationships get even stronger.

As the noble Viscount and others have said, there is no stronger advocate for that than the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. I have had the privilege of accompanying the noble Baroness on a visit to the region and it was akin to a royal visit, where we minor members of the delegation were slightly shunted aside when the Foreign Minister wanted to kiss Gloria. That is testament not only to her passion for the region but also to the long-standing nature of that.

The noble Baroness’s summary at the start of the debate was exactly right: this is a time for the UK to have more friends around the world. The challenges on climate and sustainability are shared concerns. The UK has a long-standing cross-party consensus on topical issues such as human rights, civil and political rights and support for indigenous communities, and the combination of all three highlights the value that the UK can provide in this relationship.

In that regard, I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, who rightly raised the sometimes complex issues of human rights. Before our visit to Peru, for example, she briefed me and others on the difficult subject of forced sterilisation and the complexities concerning the indigenous communities and mining, which has been raised as an element of one of our key economic partnerships. We also have a role to play there. As the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, indicated, often the mining concessions and their financing not only are located in the UK but go through the City of London, so we have not only economic value but, to some extent, a social and moral responsibility when it comes to the associated community impacts of that extraction industry. I have met indigenous representatives in Parliament who have been elected in Colombia, and in dialogue with them it has been fascinating for me to see the transition.

Another thread in the debate highlighted the economic relationship. Reference has been made to the House of Lords Library briefing, and, although we often put Covid out of our minds, one element in the Library briefing showed how heavy a toll Covid has taken on the populations in Peru and, indeed, elsewhere in Latin America. It has had an ongoing impact on the recovery of those economies, which then has a direct link to UK trading relationships.

I looked at the level of those trading relationships, which is relatively low and could of course be stronger. For the Andean relationship—that is, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru—the figure is just short of £6 billion; for the six countries in Central America, it is £2.5 billion; and for Chile and Mexico combined, it is nearly another £7 billion. In total, that is just over £16 billion. As has been indicated, that should be a floor, and we should be building on that.

On the deeper relationships relating to the challenges we face going forward, I met the Brazilian ambassador last week and we had a fascinating dialogue about the role that Brazil can play. It will host the next COP but one, and it has brought forward innovative solutions for this COP with which the UK can partner. We have seen that we can be partners with other countries in addressing many of the challenges of the time, especially those relating to climate and transition.

In that regard, I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify one point. I am currently uncertain when it comes to one of our investment arms, British International Investment. Is Latin America now covered by BII or not? It went from not being covered to then being covered under Liz Truss, but now I understand it is once again not covered as far as emerging and middle-ranking economies are concerned. I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify that point.

On the latest Argentinian elections, I think we are all fascinated to find out whether President Milei will be able to deliver on some of the rather ambitious promises that he made in his election campaign. I understand that, following the rhetoric of campaigning, some of the reality of his being in presidential office will be slightly different.

We also have opportunities, when we see so much conflict in the world, to look on our partners in Latin America as partners in peacebuilding as well as in dialogue and facilitation, especially when it comes to transitional justice and security sector reform. I do not think we as a partner consider them enough.

I also believe strongly that we can do a lot more with our parliamentary dialogue and relationships. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, has been such a stalwart of the inter-parliamentary union, and we have the ParlAmericas network. I would love the UK to be playing a stronger role with the ParlAmericas network, and for there to be UK and ParlAmericas initiatives in many of the areas where parliamentarians can take things forward. There have been sensitivities and difficulties—for example, in Ecuador, where the Parliament was suspended for political purposes. As the noble Baroness rightly highlighted, we now see a centrist president there, and some stability.

Political instability was raised. To take just one country: five Prime Ministers in seven years, seven Foreign Secretaries in seven years—but enough of the United Kingdom. More importantly, we have had a change every year in the Minister responsible for Latin America. I am delighted that we have the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, the resilient soul that he is, to speak for us. We have now discovered the only region of the world he is not responsible for—I think. To be a predictable and reliable partner at a ministerial level is really important. If only the others could be as dependable as the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, in that regard.

I have some closing remarks. Mercosur has been mentioned, and I have been keeping a watching brief with regard to both President Macron and the EU position. I find myself in agreement with the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, on that. I have come here from moving amendments in the CPTPP Committee to be in this debate this afternoon. The opportunities that presents are very important, but in order for that to be operationalised, our businesses need support to understand the markets and trade freely.

In my last minute, I will pick up on a point that the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, referenced. Two weeks ago, I was in the Falkland Islands. It was made clear to me that China is operating very assertively in that area. As of today, there are 500 Chinese vessels fishing on the very boundary of British territorial waters in the Falkland Islands, for the squid market. That is a market to the European Union, and in order for Falklands Islands’ fishing vessels to access the European market—because of our Brexit agreement—they have to be Spanish flagged. The UK’s relationship with South America and the direct interest we have touches on geopolitics—especially with China. That is why these relationships are so very important.

In my last seconds, I will close by quoting the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, when she closed her speech in the last full debate we had, in 2010:

“This debate underlines the importance of Latin America and Latin American countries. We have got to get our act together … Let us start that today, not mañana”.—[Official Report, 24/6/10; col. 1456.]

That was 13 years ago. We have to do this, because we cannot now afford not to listen to the noble Baroness. I hope the Minister will have some reassuring words when he responds.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 4:43, 7 December 2023

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for introducing this debate. It has been a great pleasure to participate in many debates on this subject with her, and she has been incredibly active in promoting better economic and cultural relationships with the region.

The Integrated Review 2021 of security, defence, development and foreign policy set out some clear aims for working with the region. It focused on developing strong partnerships based on shared democratic values, inclusive and resilient growth, free trade and mutual interest in tackling serious and organised crime and corruption—including, of course, the drugs trade. In May 2023, the then Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, when in Chile, said that the UK recognised that multilateral institutions needed to become more representative. He said that he wanted to work with the countries of the region to effect that change. One example he gave was supporting Brazil’s bid to sit as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Brazil has been elected more than 10 times to the Security Council and is currently a member. I would like the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, as the Minister for the United Nations, to tell us what sort of progress he thinks we can make on these changes. Certainly, on this side of the House we are committed to support such a change.

The then Foreign Secretary also said in Chile that we need to do more on trade. In this debate, we have heard particular reference made to Canning House, which produced a report suggesting that the previous government initiative in 2010 had delivered mixed results. I would be keen to hear from the Minister exactly how we can improve the situation. The CPTPP is an opportunity we would welcome; we hope that we can see some positive developments there, particularly with Chile, Mexico and Peru being active members, but others may wish to join.

With at least 23% of the world’s tropical forests, 30% of global reserves of freshwater and 25% of the world’s cultivable land, the region is also a vital partner in tackling climate change and restoring biodiversity. This year’s integrated review refresh highlighted that climate change and biodiversity loss are important multipliers of other global threats and are guaranteed to continue to worsen over the next decade. Six of the 10 top risks in the 10 years ahead identified by the World Economic Forum relate to climate, the environment and nature. The consequences are both acute and chronic significant setbacks to progress in achieving the 2030 agenda on the sustainable development goals—the Minister will know that I have raised this point.

The OECD has also pointed to structural issues. It said that these included

“fragile social protection systems; low productivity; weak institutions; and an environmentally unsustainable development model”.

The OECD also said:

“A systemic green and just transition could help the region overcome its development ‘traps’ and strengthen its resilience while improving Latin Americans’ well-being”.

Exactly what steps are we in the United Kingdom taking to ensure that we support those objectives? As of 2017 it was estimated, as my noble friend mentioned, that the region contained 60% of global lithium reserves, over 30% of global copper and 32% of global nickel and silver. These climate-related shocks will pose important challenges over the short and medium term.

The welcome return to office, as my noble friend Lord Liddle said, of President Lula in October 2022 represents positive news for climate policy, in particular for protection of the Amazon. Brazil has a vital role to play in the world’s response to the climate crisis, especially as it prepares to host COP 30. How will the Government work with counterparts in Brazil over the next year—or possibly until the general election—to ensure that COP 30 is a success?

In respect of that, there is also the news, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, of the election in Argentina of Milei, a self-described anarcho-capitalist. Milei promised a range of things, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said, but it is unclear whether he will have the legislative support to pass such policies. In a response to a Commons Written Question, the FCDO stated that the Government are keen to develop and strengthen our collaboration with President-elect Milei’s Administration. Can the Minister elaborate a bit more on that? In particular, how will the United Kingdom engage with Argentina on the vital issues of climate change leading up to Brazil hosting COP 30?

Of course, the integrated review also mentioned the continued defence of the UK’s sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and ensuring that the interests of the 3,500 people who live there are protected in line with the principle of self-determination. I hope the noble Lord can reiterate that position, especially in relation to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis.

Reference has been made in the debate to the referendum in Venezuela on Sunday 3 December 2023 regarding Essequibo; it is clearly provocative and counterproductive, does nothing to support good neighbourly relations with Guyana and has understandably caused unrest and anxiety among the citizens there. The referendum threatens the border agreement that was settled over 120 years ago, with the International Court of Justice ruling on Friday prohibiting Venezuela from taking any action. It is essential that international law is upheld, so will the Minister tell us how we are supporting that position and how we are monitoring the situation in Guyana?

I briefly turn to Colombia, where President Petro was elected on a “total peace” promise last year. Since then, kidnappings have increased by more than 80% and extortion is up 27%. Violence in Colombia can be felt in Britain, as we saw last month by the kidnapping of the father of the Liverpool football player, Luis Díaz. I know the Minister is aware of this, so what are we doing to support President Petro in his peace bid? I know that over many years we have given financial and physical support or specialist support in this effort, but I hope the Minister can briefly update us on what we are doing.

Finally, I turn to Haiti and the intervention of my noble friend Lord Griffiths here. We have had discussions about the situation in Haiti and the desperate need for support. I think my noble friend raised, maybe unintentionally, a really important question about Haiti being laden with such debt. The White Paper on international development was launched very recently by the Minister, Andrew Mitchell, and I do not think anyone in this House will object to its contents. But on debt restructuring and the positive impact that can have on development, it did not really suggest any radical solutions. I hope the Minister can take my noble friend’s comments away and focus on how Haiti can benefit from a much more radical proposition on debt relief.

I think, with those comments, I will leave the last 15 seconds for the noble Lord to add to his own contribution so that the debate is not terminated too early.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 4:53, 7 December 2023

My Lords, I am grateful for the 15 seconds and I have used them up already. I thank all noble Lords for their insightful contributions and join, rightly, in praising and recognising the long service of my noble friend Lady Hooper. I pay tribute to her for tabling this debate and for her work as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Panama.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, mentioned that his place on the Order Paper had changed. There may be a general election on the horizon, but I fear that his place on the Order Paper may remain much the same—

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

You never know. That really is going to be a question. Anyway, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that we have used up more than 15 seconds. I also acknowledge the presence of Their Excellencies the Ambassadors of both Costa Rica and Peru. I praise my noble friend Lady Hooper for her timing. Yes, I am not the Minister for South America, but I have just come back from there. I was in Colombia with Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Edinburgh, and I will come on to that in a moment.

It is appropriate, right at the start, to declare one’s interests. As my noble friend Lord Effingham declared the interests of his wife, I have to declare that my sister-in-law, as the ambassador knows, is Peruvian, so I assure him that in the Ahmad household, Peru is a subject that we often talk about.

This, as my noble friend Lord Naseby recognised, is also an important anniversary for many countries in Latin America: it marks the 200th anniversary of our relationship with many countries in that region. Our modern-day partnerships are founded on our shared values. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, rightly said about the integrated review, those four key pillars of values, climate, trade and security are very much the cornerstone, and we continue to be focused on those.

The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, talked about the importance of values, which are central. Many but not all countries in South America are democracies and we need to work with them to build enduring friendships. I say at the outset that my noble friend Lady Hooper’s timing is impeccable, because we face challenges and a new President in the region. First, I turn to the situation in Guyana and Venezuela. As Minister for the UN, in every General Assembly high-level week I have often attended the appropriate meeting and restated the UK’s position that the border was settled in 1899 through international arbitration. That remains the case, but I know that my noble friend the Foreign Secretary is very focused on this and I assure the noble Lords, Lord Griffiths, Lord Collins and Lord Brennan, my noble friend Lady Hooper and the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, that we are very seized of the current situation. I know this would have been a focus of my noble friend’s recent discussions in Washington.

The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, talk about sanctions. He knows that I cannot go further on that, but I can share with him that the UK has sanctioned 41 Venezuelans under our Venezuelan autonomous global human rights and anti-corruption frameworks. We do not have sectoral sanctions on Venezuela and I am not going to speculate further, but of course we are watching the situation very carefully.

On the issue of President-elect Milei’s success in Argentina, I am sure I speak for the whole House in congratulating him on his election as the next President. As fellow G20 members, we look forward to developing a strong relationship. It is interesting that one of the first actions he announced was to cut back on government departments: he is taking it down to eight, I was reading. We have a long history with Argentina, of course, and we are keen that our constructive collaboration continues. For the record, I assure the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, and the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Purvis, that the UK Government have no doubt about our sovereignty over the Falkland Islands—I know the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, was there recently—and indeed that extends to South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands as well. The UK Government are absolutely committed to proactively defending Falkland Islanders’ right to self-determination and that will remain the case. I am confident, irrespective of what Government are in place, that that will be a long-standing commitment to the people of the Falkland Islands from the United Kingdom.

The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, raised several issues about mining concerns in Peru and Colombia. I listened very carefully to her. We are supporting the development of the first National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security in Colombia, and that builds on ensuring that communities can grow and thrive. As her Royal Highness and I saw directly, this also extends to the point the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, raised about soft power. I attended a fashion show where the designers were those who had survived the conflict, including from indigenous communities. They were using recyclable material to present a new option and a new sectoral development in Colombia itself.

We were of course focused on our support since the 2016 peace agreement. I also had the opportunity to meet President Santos to get his insights. We remain, as the penholder, very focused on ensuring that the peace agreement is seen through to the end point with the new President. I am acutely aware that challenges remain within the country, and the issue of security in many parts of Colombia remains very much a focus of our attention, as well as of the new Government.

I was going to say a lot about Peru but my noble friend Lord Effingham summed it up holistically; he talked about many elements. We are proud of our relationship with Peru. In October this year, we celebrated its 200th anniversary. I also join in the tribute to my honourable friend in the Foreign Office, the Minister for South America, David Rutley, who attended various events. The UK fully supports the Peruvian Government, the constitutional process and the strengthening of Peruvian democracy, and we will continue to focus on this.

The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, raised various issues regarding the bilateral trade treaty. If I may, I will write to her about this.

The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, talked about the importance of soft power. I agree with him totally. One of the biggest British Council establishments anywhere in the world is in Colombia. I met with the new head of the British Council in South America about some of key educational programmes for many of the indigenous communities.

As the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, reminded us, most Latin American countries are functioning democracies that share our commitment to human rights and regularly vote with us in international fora. That is important: the UN matters when we come across key battlegrounds with other countries, as we have on issues of Ukraine, and support from our South American partners has been extremely important.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, when talking about trade, asked specifically about the BII. He is correct that it is not making funding available in Latin America, but I asked our trade team quite specifically about the use of UK Export Finance in this regard. It is underleveraged, and we need to look at new opportunities to make funding available. I agree with the noble Lord and others, including the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, about the opportunities that exist, particularly around the transport system. As a former Transport Minister, I remember the opportunities that exist in rail and metro systems, for example, within South America.

The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, said he would widen the debate to the Caribbean. I was Minister for the Caribbean once, to paraphrase one of my new colleagues on the Front Benches when he talked about the future. I do not know what the future holds, but I was totally immersed in the Caribbean region and the opportunities those countries present. Many of them are Commonwealth partners. The noble Lord rightly drew our attention to Haiti. He asked for innovative thinking; as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, suggested, I will take that back. We have some great, inspirational leaders in the Caribbean, no less than the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, who is a great champion of accessible finance for small island developing states. On Haiti specifically, the United Kingdom has a direct interest: our territory, Turks and Caicos, is impacted by the challenges in Haiti and we work closely with the US on security concerns. I will come back to the noble Lord on other, more innovative suggestions when it comes to that patch, after discussions with colleagues.

I will turn briefly to trade. The total value of imports and exports to Latin America rocketed by more than 45% last year to more than £40 billion. Yet, as noble Lords have pointed out, the region still represents only 2% of UK imports and 2.5% of UK exports. We are, of course, not the only country that sees the potential; several noble Lords talked about China’s strong and growing economic footprint and how that underpins its influence. It is now the region’s largest trading partner. We have to realise that, which is why the issues of soft power are important, as well as increasing trade.

My noble friend Lord Naseby talked about Chile. He will pleased to know that, as well as the UK-central America association agreement, the Government have signed trade agreements with the Andean region and Chile, and we are making progress on negotiations with Mexico. In July, we finalised accession procedures for joining the CPTPP. This sets the stage for deeper trade investment tie-ins with Morocco, Peru and Chile as founding members. My noble friend Lady Hooper talked about the accession of other countries, including Costa Rica; I know that Ecuador and Uruguay are also interested.

The question of future accessions is of course under discussion, so it would be inappropriate to comment any further. All such CPTPP discussions are taken by consensus, but my noble friend makes a strong case.

Over the next decade, we will aim to eliminate further market access barriers and sign agreements with countries around the region, supporting growing trade and investment in sectors of strategic importance and special interest. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, raised the issue of Mercosur. Brazil and other Mercosur countries are important trading partners to the UK, and the UK wants to pursue a high-quality FTA in the future in this respect. We are clear, though, that trade should not be at the expense of environmental or climate commitments. Again, the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, reminded us of the importance of those issues.

My noble friend Lord Effingham raised various issues. I was very much seized of the issue of superfood production in Peru and the wider region. As I said, I have a family interest in this regard. My sister-in-law is a great advocate of such exports and certainly keeps telling me to increase my intake. I believe that Peru exported a record 286 million tonnes of fresh blueberries in 2022-23—the largest such export in the world. UK-based Cocogreen, a cleantech innovator in sustainable agritech products, is now exporting to the region, with deals with world-beating superfood producers in Mexico and Peru worth almost £60 million in the coming years. Again, this debate illustrates the importance of widening the debate, and of our own learnings and education.

The noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Brennan, raised the vital issue of lithium, as did my noble friends Lord Effingham and Lord Naseby. We recognise the critical importance of Latin America’s minerals to the global transition to a green economy, and we are working with the so-called lithium triangle countries—Argentina, Chile and Bolivia—which together own almost 60% of the world’s lithium resources. This is vital to the global transition to a green economy, as is lithium battery R&D through the Faraday Institution. However, I should add that in mining cobalt—experience lends itself to this—we should bear in mind the importance of ensuring that vulnerable communities are not impacted. That is an important value that we must sustain. The UK shares many similar values with countries in the region in this respect.

I have been told that I have only 60 seconds left, even though my time has already been curtailed, but I just want to make a few key points on the climate. The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, raised important issues about the Inter-American Development Bank, which is the largest source of development finance to Latin America and the Caribbean, providing over $18 billion last year. The issue of climate is an important element of our work with South America, and I am delighted that Latin American countries will be big beneficiaries of the UK’s £2 billion contribution, announced in September by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, to the Green Climate Fund. It is our largest single climate funding commitment. We are lobbying the Inter-American Development Bank to provide greater volumes and quality of climate finance. We have partnerships under the Amazonia Forever initiative and we are keen supporters of the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor.

The noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Purvis, among others, mentioned Brazil, which is a key partner. It led the UN considerably during its tenure of the Security Council. Personally, I was disappointed that its efforts, particularly on the issue of Gaza, did not bring more returns. However, our partnership is strong, and we value it.

The issue of security also came up. We are working very closely on the 2016 peace agreement in Colombia. I acknowledge what the noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised about the narcotics issues and challenges in South America. Unfortunately, South America is the most violent region in the world outside of conflict situations, with 8.4% of the world’s population but around 30% of global homicides. I will end my comments by saying that we are continuing our focus on this issue with colleagues across the National Crime Agency and the Border Force; it will be a key element of our focus on strengthening our relationships across all four key pillars. We have delivered over £10 million from our global stability and security fund to Latin American countries—for example, to counter illicit finance.

Other questions have been raised. My noble friend raised issues about UK visas; I will write to her specifically on that.

Today’s debate has illustrated the importance of South America to this House and our country as a whole. The UK is leaning on our lengthy and strong partnerships with Latin American countries to boost economic growth, promote close security and climate co-operation. In that regard, I am sure that noble Lords will agree with me that my noble friend has played an important part.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 5.10 pm.