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ROME, Jun 28 2010 (IPS) - While a considerable portion of economic and trade data shows that relations between Europe and Latin America are positive, reinforcing their historic cultural closeness, for some time now news about Latin America has been a low priority for the European media, which is effecting the thinking of the leaders and citizens of the old continent and pushing Latin America in a direction that runs contratry to European interests.

In the recent Euro-Latin American Summit held in Madrid last May, free-trade accords were agreed with Central America and certain Andean countries and negotiations with the Common Market of the South (Mercosur, made up of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay) were relaunched. For the majority of European media, information on the accords and even the summit itself, attended by almost 60 heads of state or high-level representatives, was given secondary coverage or passed entirely unnoticed, in sharp contrast to even a few years ago, when news of Latin America was given higher-profile coverage.

The European Union is currently the principal trading partner of Mercosur. The EU exports more to Latin America than to China and invests more there than it does in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) or in the new members of the EU. Interregional trade doubled between 1999-2008; Latin American exports to the EU grew from 42.5 to 102.4 billion euros as imports rose from 52.2 to 86.4 billion euros.

Nonetheless, in news coverage in the European media, Europe comes first, then the United States, then Asia for economic and strategic reasons, then Africa for humanitarian and immigration reasons, and finally Latin America. This was the unanimous opinion of journalists specialised in Latin America from the major European media at a seminar of editors and publishers organised by IPS and the government of Spain, which now holds EU presidency. In Latin America, in contrast, coverage of Europe continues to occupy a prominent place, albeit less so than in previous years.

According to certain Latin American analysts, the region ceased to be “news” for Europe once it stopped having coups d’etat, waves of exiles, and massive human rights violations. Others cite the lack of training and vision by the leaders of many European media that have failed to note the processes of regional integration and growth that have strengthened the role of Latin America in the international arena.

Few European media have stressed the fact that the recession that has battered the United States, Europe, and Japan has, for the first time, not effected the nations of the South more severely. It has been noted that the crises which struck Latin American -as well as Asian- countries in earlier periods caused them to impose a certain rigour, resulting in increased financial solidity which, along with political maturity, brought stability and strengthened the democratic system. Moreover, the birth of so-called “multi-Latin” businesses, like Petroleos del Sur and the Banco del Sur, is being driven by regional integration especially in the area of physical, energy, and communications infrastructure.

Currently the GDP of the seven principal economies of Latin America equal that of China.

A close look at the relation between the agendas of Europe and Latin America reveals areas of coherence and incoherence.

While there is a convergence of both continents’ plans for social inclusion, liberalisation, human rights, and fighting terrorism and drug trafficking, there are significant discrepancies in the approach to protectionism, especially in agriculture, while they are far apart on the issues of migration and atavistic eruptions of colonialism -like the conflict between the UK and Argentina over the Malvinas islands. The two regions should work together to find common areas of agreement and resolve their differences.

A Latin American journalist recalled that the EU and Latin America still enjoy levels of mutual confidence that make possible the negotiation of free trade agreements without stirring up negative reactions like those seen when the US proposed the Free Trade Zone of the Americas, which finally collapsed in the face of protests and the withdrawal of support by various governments, especially on the left.

The complexity of these phenomena requires greater preparation on the part of the negotiators. The economic woes of the European media have reduced yet further the possibility of producing coverage of Latin America with its own resources, which raises an important question regarding the quality of information about the continent in Europe.

Certain European leaders think that their countries are “distracted” from Latin America; however, as pointed out in a recent report from CEPAL, global bilateral relations require greater attention, because while the past may have united both regions, the current behaviour of the market will shape new alliances. Indeed, trade forecasts now indicate that in 2020 Latin America’s main trade partner will be China, not Europe. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Mario Lubetkin, director-general of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency.

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