Tuesday, 17 December 2002
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Cowen: As the political and economic importance of the Latin American region continues to grow, the focus of our policy towards Central and South America is to build closer bilateral relations with the countries of the region and, together with our partners in the European Union, to forge a closer bi-regional relationship with Latin America as a whole.
The bi-regional relationship between the European Union and Latin America was given a further impetus by the second Summit of Heads of State and Government of the EU and Latin America and the Caribbean, which took place in Madrid on 17 May last. Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to consolidate the strategic partnership between the two regions based on respect for human rights and international law, the promotion of democracy and co-operation for economic and social development. Ireland will jointly chair the third EU-Latin America/ Caribbean summit, which is expected to take place in Mexico in May 2004, during the Irish Presidency of the EU.
Ireland has supported the negotiation of the new EU association and partnership agreements with individual countries and regional blocs in Latin America. A global agreement on economic partnership, political co-operation and co-ordination between the EU and Mexico came into effect on 1 July 2000. The global agreement provides a framework for the development of Ireland's political and economic relations with Mexico. The rapid development of these relations is evidenced by the fact that the first visit by a President of Mexico took place on 13 November last, when we were very happy to welcome President Fox who was accompanied by an important business delegation. The Taoiseach will make an official visit to Mexico next month. A substantial trade delegation will also travel with him.
Following more than two years of negotiations, a comprehensive association agreement between the EU and Chile was signed on 18 November 2002. It provides for co-operation in the political, economic, scientific, technological, social and cultural fields. Ireland welcomes the increased opportunities for bilateral co-operation to be provided by the agreement which will further strengthen our ties with Chile, already advanced significantly this year by their opening of a resident embassy in Dublin. Negotiations are also proceeding for a new EU-Mercosur association agreement. We will seek to build bilaterally on  the Taoiseach's visit to Brazil last year when President Lula da Silva's administration takes office on 1 January next.
Ireland's trade with, and investment in, Latin America as a whole have increased substantially in recent years. Between 1995 and 2001, total trade with the region grew from €543 million to €1.84 billion and we look forward to a similar expansion in trade in the coming years. A number of Irish companies have made significant investments in Latin America including Mexico, Argentina and Brazil.
We are also developing our relations with Latin America through increased Ireland Aid funding to the region. To date, in 2002, Ireland Aid has provided over €6.1 million to countries in Latin America under the human rights and democratisation scheme, the NGO co-financing scheme and in the form of emergency and rehabilitation assistance.
The Government is fully seized of the fact that Latin America as a whole is a region of immense potential. Accordingly, Ireland's diplomatic representation in the area has been steadily strengthened over recent years. In addition to the long-standing embassy in Buenos Aires, which also holds accreditation to Bolivia, Chile and Uruguay, and the opening of an embassy in Mexico city in 1999, with secondary accreditation to Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Peru and Venezuela, a resident embassy was established in Brasilia in November 2001. In an agreed programme for Government we committed to further expanding our resident diplomatic missions in Latin America, as elsewhere, resources permit.
Mr. G. Mitchell: Does the Minister agree that €6.1 million is a small amount of aid for a region of such enormous geographic size and great need? Even in some of the more developed parts of southern and Central America there is great need. In the context of increased aid to the region, will the Minister inform the House if human rights in parts of the region has been high on the Government's agenda and will continue to be so? I refer, in particular, to the number of disappearances and the taking of hostages.
I understand that in Ecuador recently an Irish citizen was taken captive, and may still be held. The Minister did not say who is the accredited ambassador to Ecuador. I believe the ambassador to Mexico has been involved in the case. Has the Government raised in general the question of persons being abducted for ransom and specifically the case of an Irish citizen?
Mr. Cowen: Regarding development aid, we have obtained a good peer review internationally. There is specific emphasis on Africa in terms of our Ireland Aid programmes and giving to the  poorest of the poor. There are areas of Latin America which are also very deprived and we have provided for some assistance in that area. We note what the Deputy said regarding the amount of money involved. Clearly we have to prioritise but in the context of a growing volume of money being made available for development aid for the future, this is an issue and an area of activity that the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, can take up based on our discussions here today.
On the second question, there are far too many instances of human rights abuses, lawlessness, kidnapping, etc. throughout the continent of Latin America, specifically in certain areas. I am aware of the case raised by Deputy Mitchell and the family concerned. We are continuing to do all we can to discharge our consular responsibilities to citizens, particularly in regard to the case mentioned by the Deputy where we are continuing to try to obtain a successful outcome to what has been a very difficult situation for the family.
Mr. M. Higgins: Is the Minister concerned about the consistent attempts to undermine the Government of President Chàvez in Venezuela and, in view of his attendance in Brazil for the installation of President Lula, does he believe a similar pattern might emerge there which would be deeply destabilising?
Mr. Cowen: Obviously there are views on the sources of instability in Venezuela but I take the Deputy's point that it is important that the elected representatives of the people be supported, and their right and entitlement to pursue policies they regard as being in their own national interest. I note that proposed appointments by the new Brazilian President in the whole finance area have been well received by the international community.
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