Spain Hosts Ibero-American Summit, Hopes for Deeper Latin American Ties

By Alex Erquicia

Spain hosts the Ibero-American Summit November 16 and 17, seeking to deepen economic ties as it is in the midst of a recession. But questions remain about which leaders will attend. 

Cádiz will host the Ibero-American Summit of Heads of State and Government November 16 and 17 at a time when Spain faces its worst economic crisis since the annual meeting was created in 1991. While Spain’s recession is expected to continue through 2013, Latin America as a region is projected to grow as much as 4 percent in the 2012-2013 period. And while 25 percent of Spain’s population is jobless, Latin American unemployment has fallen to a historic low, averaging 6.5 percent. As such, Europe’s fourth-largest economy sees its ties with Latin America as a strategic alliance and a priority to combat the recession

Given this growing economic scenario, Spain has already made efforts to expand its presence there in search of more trade and investment accords. A May 2012 report by the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (also known as CEPAL) found that Spain raised its 2011 level of foreign direct investment to 14 percent of the region’s total —or $21.5 billion. In previous years, Spain’s investment in the region totalled less than 10 percent. To boot, some Spanish companies also rely heavily on profits from their Latin American operations to compensate for losses at home. Spain’s King Juan Carlos has also taken the lead to promoting Spanish-Latin American business partnerships. In June he traveled to Latin America to attend a Pacific Alliance summit in Chile and visit other countries to drum up investment opportunities.  More recently, in October, he held a meeting with business owners and executives from Spain and over a dozen Latin American countries to analyze the possibility of forming strategic economic alliances favoring joint ventures.

But economic ties aren’t the only focus at this year’s Summit. Prior to the inauguration of its twenty-second edition, the meeting attracted attention around which leaders will actually attend. Spain also sees the summit as a way to strengthen its role as a bridge between the EU and Latin America at a time when some analysts see Madrid losing that position. As such, Spain’s government invested effort in convincing leaders to go to Cádiz, especially after last year’s poor showing—a total of 11 leaders out of 22 were absent at the 2011 summit, celebrated in Asuncion. Thus far, Paraguay is the only delegation that won’t have any representatives; Spain declined to invite officials following the country’s suspension from Mercosur over former President Federico Lugo’s June impeachment. 

Neither Cuba nor Venezuela’s presidents will attend, though they will send diplomatic representatives. Spain has been involved in a diplomatic battle with Cuba surrounding the case of Angel Carromero, accused of vehicular manslaughter in the death of Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá. The Summit will be an opportunity for Madrid to request Carromero’s repatriation to serve his four-year sentence at home. Spain’s government also hoped that Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner would attend in order to ease tensions following the April nationalization of Spanish oil company Repsol’s holdings in Argentina, but a bilateral meeting will take place instead with Argentina’s representation headed by Vice President Amado Boudou. Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina decided not to attend in the wake of the earthquakes that hit his country November 7.  Finally, Uruguay’s president José Mujica announced a day before the start that he would not be able to travel to Cádiz due to health reasons. 

With concerns that the Summit produces lackluster results, reforms may be on the way with former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos billed to head a working group in charge of the process. One of the new rules could make the meeting biannual to coordinate the event with the bi-yearly EU-Latin America summits. 

In other transatlantic news: 

  • The European Union’s top trade official was in Mexico earlier this week, where he urged for renegotiating the 12-year-old EU-Mexican trade pact. “Mexico and the European Union have been pioneers of transatlantic free trade but our legal relationship now risks falling behind,” said EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, calling for opening up the trade deal to cover services, agriculture, and other areas. The EU ranks third in terms of Mexico’s top trade partners, behind the United States and China. 
  • Ahead of the Ibero-American Summit, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera stopped in Brussels to meet with leaders of the European Union and the Belgian prime minister. He announced that he hopes for deepening of the decade-old EU-Chilean association agreement. Piñera will also play host to the EU and Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (also known as CELAC) summit on January 26 and 27 in Santiago. The Chilean head of state will visit other countries and Turkey during his current tour. 
  • On November 18, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will meet with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in Madrid. Agenda priorities include bilateral immigration issues and commercial agreements. In 2011 Brazil’s commerce with Spain reached $8 billion, 20 percent more than the previous year. Ahead of the meeting, Rajoy wrote an article for a Brazilian magazine in which he said he wants “more Brazil in Spain and more Spain in Brazil.”