“Latin America – a major foreign policy objective” - Op-ed published by Laurent Fabius in the French newspaper Le Figaro (February 20, 2013)



“Starting on February 21, I will travel to three Latin American countries – Colombia, Panama and Peru – to work on revitalizing our relations with this continent. My visit to the region, following those by the president and the prime minister, has a clear purpose: we want to foster a lasting rapprochement with Latin America; this is a major foreign policy objective for us.

Over the last few years, France has aimed to develop its relations with certain major Latin-American countries, notably Brazil – that was essential – but not with the other countries. François Hollande’s election provoked genuine interest: many people are paying close attention to our political agenda, to our commitment to solidarity and justice, to the defense of human rights, to the promotion of democracy. There is therefore a “window of opportunity” to strengthen our relations with this continent whose influence in the world is becoming apparent.

Yet Latin America has enjoyed sustained growth – currently around 4% and sometimes even much higher (Panama) - for a decade now. The countries of Latin America have generally managed to strengthen their budgetary situations; they are trying to ensure that their development benefits the entire population. In order to achieve this they are able to draw on considerable raw material reserves (Peru), on a genuine middle class, on their young people, on their openness to the world. Obviously, some weaknesses still exist, notably with respect to infrastructure, public services, training and inequality. But, bolstered by this growth, many Latin American countries are asserting themselves politically, for example, Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina - all 3 are members of the G20 - but also Colombia and, in a different manner, Venezuela.

Everything points toward strengthening France’s presence. We have considerable advantages. Our country exerted significant influence in Latin America in the past. The French Revolution inspired many liberation movements. We have traditionally been a strong influence with respect to law, science and medicine. French culture has left a strong mark, notably thanks to the local elite, who were overwhelmingly French-speaking until the middle of the 20th century. And yet, despite these advantages, our country has, for too long, appeared to abandon this continent.

I want to show that this perception is now unfounded. I will travel to Latin America with a commitment to expressly establishing a relationship that is based on a new long-term continent-wide partnership approach. Continent-wide because we intend to work with all countries in this region, without suggesting – a mistake that we haven’t always avoided – that only the most important countries deserve our interest. Partnership-based, because our relationship must be based on an equal partnership and reject any form of arrogance.

We want to develop this partnership in several directions. The first one relates to the response to global challenges. Of course, these countries sometimes move forward in a haphazard manner, for example, with respect to climate challenges; some of them may be difficult interlocutors in international forums. For all that, Latin America can be a major ally in the face of several major globalization challenges. These countries are generally attached to multilateral frameworks, notably the UN. As a result of their democratic trajectory and their openness to the world, they are destined to become privileged interlocutors in our efforts to improve global regulation of the political, economic, social and environmental sectors.

The economy is the second key area of the partnership that we would like to establish. France recently became the leading European investor in the region. We have strong market positions, notably in Brazil and Colombia. Our companies are well positioned to win major contracts, especially in the military sector: Latin America is our second-largest client after the Middle East. But for consumer goods the situation is much less complimentary: Our share of the market is less than 1.5%! We must therefore focus our attention on economic diplomacy, especially on developing the presence of our SMEs.

The third pillar of this partnership involves building on the vitality of the relations between our societies. Do you know that France is the second-biggest recipient of Latin American students outside of the American continent? There are 3,000 Colombian students in France. The French community there recently expanded. We have a strong cooperation network, the legacy of two centuries of exceptional human and cultural exchanges: 275 Alliances françaises, which provide training to more than 160,000 students, 37 French lycées, and numerous research institutes. All of these advantages must be preserved; they will allow us to further enhance the cultural, scientific, university and human exchanges between our societies.

We want to establish equal partnerships with Latin America - with its large and small countries - and make the development of our economic ties part of a broader dialogue, based on a community of values and within the framework of the development of human and cultural exchanges. This new Latin-American diplomacy forms an integral part of our foreign policy choices: Yes, we intend to be present wherever the world of tomorrow is being built.

France possesses strengths in Latin America that will allow it to become a truly influential power. My visit will show that we are now resolutely determined to achieve this and that we will find the means to do so.”