Speech by minister Blok at meeting with ambassadors of Latin American and Caribbean countries

Speech by minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok at the meeting with ambassadors of Latin American and Caribbean countries in The Hague, 24 June.

Your Excellencies,

Mario Vargas Llosa wrote this in his book Diccionario del Amante de América Latina:

It is impossible to understand Latin America without leaving it and observing it from afar with your own eyes, noting at the same time the myths and stereotypes that have been constructed about it abroad.  

Well, ambassadors, you’ve all left your continent, for a shorter or longer time. Like many diplomats, you are far away from home, allowing for new ideas and perspectives. Perhaps, like this great Peruvian writer, thinker, essayist and journalist, you feel even more Latin American now. Or maybe the many things Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean have in common stand out even more: our love of music, art, nature and especially football.

Your excellencies,

We met in a similar setting about a year ago. These kind of meetings are important to me. Your region is significant to our Kingdom, for a number of reasons. The proximity and vicinity of our islands. Our shared values. Our common interests. I will elaborate on these issues in a bit. There is a long history and extensive relationship between the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean. It is illustrated by a number of official visits.

Recently I travelled to Mexico, and last year to Colombia, Venezuela and Argentina. Mark Rutte visited Colombia by the end of last year with a trade mission. Our political director visited Brazil for a productive exchange with his counterpart. I am confident I will be able to visit the region again later this year.

We are living in strange times. Old certainties and achievements are being called into question, sometimes bluntly and loudly. Concerns about the environment and the planet we all live on are being shrugged off. Clearly, democracy, freedom and free trade can no longer be taken for granted. Europe and the Latin American and Caribbean region are both continents that cherish these values. Global systems based on rules and principles are in our collective interest. So we have a responsibility to help strengthen and defend them. This is true for our bilateral relationship. But also, of course, it underpins relations between our regional groups, the European Union and Latin America and the Caribbean. Allow me to make some general remarks on what brings us together.

First. Except for Europe, there is no other continent that is home to such a large and diverse group of democracies. With everything that democracy entails: free and fair elections, checks and balances, critical media and independent courts.

The past year was an election year for the Latin American and Caribbean region. New governments took office in, amongst others, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Panama, Colombia, Costa Rica and El Salvador. This year elections take place in Guatemala, Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia.

As democracies, we share values such as freedom of expression, freedom of religion, equal rights for women and girls, and equal rights for LGBTI persons.

We work together on these issues. Like LGBTI, in the Equal Rights Coalition where we joined forces with a number of Latin American countries.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands also works closely with the region through the Organization of American States, which we support in organizing election observation.

At the same time, challenges remain. In some cases, there are troubling trends on violence, often related to drugs, often against women. Impunity sometimes is a serious issue.

And freedom of the press, an important issue for a liberal, in some cases needs serious attention.

As to many countries in the region, the situation in Venezuela is of great concern to us. As a neighboring country, the Kingdom of the Netherlands is directly involved. A solution should come from within. And the International Community should contribute. Politically and through humanitarian assistance. We are closely involved, for example through the humanitarian hub in Curaçao. We are concerned about the large numbers of migrants, especially in Colombia and Peru, and we’re very grateful to those countries and the UNHCR for the efforts they’re making. Our country has recognized Juan Guaidó as interim-president to ensure free and fair elections; we are a member of the International Contact Group and we are working with the Lima Group. Together with the EU and with other international partners, we’re pressing for a political and democratic solution to this conflict.

But despite the crisis in Venezuela, the worst one on the continent, the fact remains: the Latin American and Caribbean region is a partner where democracy is concerned. And to be frank, in these times democracies need each other’s support. We can and should work more closely together, around the world. To support emerging democracies. To promote free media. To strengthen independent courts.

Second. On the environment, it is clear that both Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean are ambitious. Our commitment is manifest. We all signed the Paris Agreement and are strongly convinced of the importance to make progress in this regard.

Costa Rica is an important  frontrunner in the region. The Costa Ricans have put their words into action. They are making the transition to completely renewable energy – a transition that the Netherlands is striving to make by 2050.

Chile is hosting COP25.

We want to work with you to tackle climate change – one of the biggest uncertainties in our common future. It affects us all. And what affects us all, should concern us all. So we all need to step up and coordinate our efforts. I believe ambitious climate action can go hand in hand with economic growth, job creation, enhanced energy and food security, improved health and livable cities.

Climate change is a problem that urgently demands a response from us all. Our Kingdom is especially vulnerable to sea level rise. Some countries, like the Netherlands, can afford to build massive water defenses, but many cannot. Islands in the Caribbean will become unlivable if we don’t reach the Paris goals and keep global warming well under two degrees Celsius. So we have to raise our climate ambitions and step up our climate action. There is no alternative.

My last point, Your Excellencies, concerns trade. Latin America is a major trading partner for the Netherlands, and a reliable one. The figures speak volumes. We import about 12 billion euros worth of goods from your continent every year. And export about 8.5 billion euros worth. And these amounts are increasing year by year.

And although our country is small in size, we’re a major global trading partner. We have the world’s eighth largest export economy. One third of our GDP comes from exports.

One essential dimension of economic diplomacy by Dutch embassies abroad is the focus on sustainable enterprise and corporate social responsibility. This is a major issue in Dutch politics and society. As is the importance of fair, free and sustainable trade, governed by global bodies like the WTO.

As a liberal minister and an advocate of free trade, I’m hopeful that we can soon finalize the EU-Mercosur association agreement. There was considerable progress these last few weeks. The trade part of this association agreement would constitute one of the largest free trade agreements of all time.

A welcome addition to the variety of free trade agreements that the EU already has with Latin American and Caribbean countries.

I sincerely believe in free trade. I think there is a strong link between freedom, free trade and stability. Regional stability is good for bilateral and multilateral commercial ties. And of course the opposite is also true: instability makes trade harder.

You know better than anyone else how important a favorable business climate is for promoting trade and investment. This requires, among other things: independent courts, effective public procurement and measures to fight corruption.

In short, the Netherlands, the EU as a whole and Latin America all benefit from a global system based on rules and principles. And not based on the law of the jungle, where might makes right. We want trade that generates prosperity for everyone. With independent arbiters who can step in if something goes wrong.

Maintaining and improving the existing systems – notably the UN, the ICC and other tribunals in The Hague and the WTO – is in the interests of both regions. So we have a common responsibility and a common task: sustaining, preserving and protecting this rules-based order. It is also in the interest of both Europe and Latin America to endeavor to do everything we can to keep our Northern American allies within these systems.

Your Excellencies, allow me to invoke Mario Vargas Llosa one more time. Twenty-five years ago he was awarded the Cervantes Prize. Nine years ago he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. The committee hailed ‘his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt and defeat’. New stories are now being written in the continent. Sometimes with setbacks, but clearly also with progress, opportunities and development. I’m committed to making sure that the Kingdom of the Netherlands, as a neighbor and a partner to the region, will play an important part in these stories. For a long time to come.

Thank you.