Rede von Vizekanzler und Außenminister Michael Spindelegger anlässlich des Runden Tisches zu Lateinamerika im Rahmen des Treffens des Círculo de Montevideo in Wien, English only
Es gilt das gesprochene Wort!
Your Excellencies, Mr. Director General, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to welcome all of you to this “Latin America Roundtable”. It provides an excellent platform for discussions between the esteemed members of the Círculo de Montevideo, the diplomatic corps based in Vienna, leaders of International Organisations and eminent personalities from the political, business and academic communities.
It is gratifying to know that the Circle – fifteen years after its foundation - is holding for the second time after 2001 its annual plenary meeting in Vienna. Since 1996 the Círculo de Montevideo has been dealing with a large variety of political and economic topics of global concern, breaking new ground for human, economic, social and democratic development and providing valuable strategic direction.
I should like to thank the Director General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, Mr. Yumkella, for his initiative to invite the Circle to hold its session in Vienna. As the Vienna Energy Forum and the UNIDO board meeting take place at the same time, this is a perfect example for creating synergies. It also emphasises Vienna’s aspiration to serve as a hub for innovative global energy policies.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
Let me now turn to the subject matter of this roundtable and allow me to share with you some views and thoughts on Latin America and the Caribbean, the European Union and Austria’s role in this relationship.
One cannot fail to observe the recent and rapid rise of the regard in which Latin America is held these days. Only a little while ago it was called “the forgotten continent” by the journalist Michael Reed. Now, Mr. Moreno, President of the Inter-American Development Bank, is applauded for speaking about the “decade of Latin America”. Within a short time span Latin America has not only managed a profound transition to democracy but also to dynamic economies. Some countries have also become active players on the global stage. The membership of Latin American countries - Argentina, Brazil and Mexico - in the G-20 provides additional weight to the subcontinent in this important forum. We particularly welcome the progress achieved in regional integration, such as the envisaged new regional organization CELAC.
By and large Latin America has weathered the global financial and economic crisis of three years ago more successfully than other highly developed countries. The subcontinent owes this record to the prudent policies applied: low foreign debt, high reserves of foreign currencies, orderly public finances, inflation under control of central banks, clear regulations and supervision of the banking sector. Latin America could therefore return speedily to the high economic growth rates it enjoyed before the crisis.
In a remarkable turnaround the spectre of indebtedness which had plagued some Latin American Countries in the eighties has since moved on elsewhere. The continent can rely on a number of favourable basic conditions: its population is comparatively young; it disposes of one quarter of the world’s fertile land and one third of the world’s drinking water. Latin America is therefore in a splendid position to cater to the growing global needs for food and water.
On the other hand it cannot be overlooked that Latin America faces a number of old and some new obstacles and challenges on its path. According to the analysis of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) these challenges relate especially to the field of innovation and competitiveness, to the question of income distribution or the segmentation of the labour market and social protection.
It is highly encouraging that Latin America has managed to reduce poverty and – for the first time in history – the degree of inequality. More recent problems are negative effects of the high inflow of foreign capital, currency appreciation and too much focus on primary goods.
On balance, it is evident that Latin America and the Caribbean is a region of growing importance for the European Union and Austria. The two regions share a wealth of common history, languages, values and culture. For centuries we have maintained a common vision of the world and philosophy of life. Our cultures have cross-fertilized each other. In short, Latin America is one of the regions closest to Europe.
The European Union is to date the second largest partner in trade and investment. To keep that place it is vital that the new agreements between the European Union and Latin America and the Caribbean be soon implemented. At the Summit Meeting in Madrid last year negotiations towards a partnership agreement between the EU and Central American countries were concluded. Trade agreements with Colombia and Peru were finalized. They will now have to go thrugh their respective signing and ratification processes. Other agreements are already in force with CARIFORUM, Brazil, Mexico and Chile. The resumption of negotiations with MERCOSUR was also decided in Madrid. They had been blocked since 2004 mainly because of difficult agricultural issues. A balanced outcome of these negotiations that takes into account the concerns of all partners is needed.
Another result of the Madrid summit was the establishment of a new Latin American Investment Facility. It will make means available for financing key infrastructure projects in your region in particular in the fields of transport and energy.
The long term perspective is clear: we should strive for the creation of an economic zone for more than one billion Latin American and EU-citizens in which a good balance for mutual needs is found and thus the interests of all are served.
Yet another result of Madrid - the agreement reached on the mandate of the new EU-LAC foundation - turned out to become quite important for Austria. It has been decided in the meantime that Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner will be the first president of the Foundation. The foundation will involve civil societies of both regions in the implementation of the grand themes identified by the Heads of Government in their summit meetings. It will suggest and prepare new areas of work and it will give visibility to the strategic partnership between our regions. Austria has already made available a budget contribution allowing for the early start of work of the foundation. I am sure that the excellent choice of appointing Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner will contribute decisively to the success of the foundation.
Austria is cooperating closely with Caribbean countries, especially in the framework of CARICOM, in order to strengthen its personell and institutional capacities. For that purpose we will organize a second course for Caribbean diplomats in our Diplomatic Academy next year.
The focus of our development cooperation in Latin America lies in the fields of science and research, in which we grant scholarships and promote post graduates.
Our trade with the region has virtually taken off. We see in particular an enormous potential for cooperation with regard to safeguarding energy supply, the efficient use of energy and the further development of renewable sources of energy. A good number of Austrian companies can offer top of the art technological services and supplies in this field. You are aware of my personal interest in making Vienna a hub of an innovative energy network for international cooperation based on the presence of the IAEA, OPEC, UNIDO and other pertinent organizations.
I belief in a strong and expanding partnership between Latin America and Europe. There is much we can contribute to each other and so much we can accomplish together.