European and Latin American leaders pledged to deepen trade ties between their two regions and tackle global warming and poverty at the fifth EU-Latin America-Caribbean Summit in Lima.
Participants at the summit, including European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, said they were “deeply concerned by the impact of increased food prices”. In a declaration released on 16 May, they called for “immediate measures to assist the most vulnerable countries and populations affected”.
Soaring global food prices have been sparking riots in a growing number of countries in recent weeks, notably in Haiti, which received particular attention at the summit.
But the role of biofuels in the ongoing food crisis remained a key point of contention among the 50-60 heads of state and government attending the summit. While the EU and Brazil, which is the world’s top ethanol producer, expressed their support for biofuels as a substitute for conventional fossil fuels, many other Latin American countries blamed them for driving up food prices.
European leaders played down the risks. “The impact of biofuels should not provoke such alarm, because from my point of view the relationship isn’t that clear,” said Spanish leader José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. “The chief reason for increased food prices is increased consumption, and the only proper response to increased consumption is to step up production,” agreed Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša.
Trade issues also remained divisive, with EU leaders lamenting the slow pace of negotiations aimed at liberalising trade between the two regions.
The 27-nation bloc hopes to conclude regional free trade pacts with Mercosur, the Andean Community and Central America by next year, said Barroso. But progress has stalled, notably due to the reluctance of certain leftist leaders to open up their markets.
Bolivian President Evo Morales said he feared the poorest would suffer from the rush to conclude free-trade deals with Europe. While he had backing of Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, the other two members of the Andean Community bloc, Peru and Colombia, are keen to reach a deal soon and requested that their countries be put on a “fast track”. A free trade pact with the EU “would be conducive to the economic growth and social development of the two regions,” insisted Peruvian President Alan Garcia.
In the final statement, the EU agreed to consider a more flexible approach “taking into account the asymmetries between and within the regions”. “It’s a general framework with flexibility that means in principle countries can sign parts of the agreement and not others,” said Correa.
Spain’s Zapatero, who will host the next EU-LAC Summit in 2010, said that “maximum priority” should now be given to removing outstanding trade obstacles. “We can’t arrive at our next meeting in 2010 without having managed to do so,” he insisted, saying the planned trade deals would be the best way to reduce social inequalities.