I am very aware of the multi-faceted economic and political challenges that many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) face and the disproportionate affect that COVID-19 has had on the region. Ireland, together with EU partners and others in the international community, continue to support countries in the region to respond effectively to these challenges.
The long-standing partnership between the EU and the LAC region is grounded in shared values and history and a commitment to multilateralism. We share the same vision when it comes to shaping global issues, such as sustainable development, free and fair trade, and the digital revolution.
Relations between the EU and the LAC region were most recently discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council Meeting (FAC) on 12 October and I participated in this discussion. The impact of COVID-19 in the region had also been discussed at the FAC on 13 July. On that occasion, we voiced concern about how the pandemic is compounding difficulties already facing the region, such as inequality, gender issues, democracy and human rights. An EU-LAC Ministerial Meeting is planned for 14 December at which we hope to reaffirm and give new impetus to our strategic partnership.
Ireland, through our six Missions in the region, is active under the ‘Team Europe’ umbrella, which has been providing support to the most vulnerable countries and people most at risk since the outbreak of the pandemic. As of 1 October 2020, €2.44 billion has been made available, so far, to partners in the region under the initiative. The EU is the LAC region’s principal development partner (€3.6 billion provided in grants between 2014 and 2020) and a main provider of humanitarian assistance. The EU also provides support through regional cooperation programmes through the Development Cooperation Instrument. The EU Regional Programme for Latin America (2014-2020) allocated a total of €918 million to the region.
Debt relief is an important tool to assist countries speed up post-COVID recovery and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We note that many Middle Income countries, a number of which are in the LAC region, are not eligible for debt relief and are at risk of debt distress. We support efforts to explore ways to help address the debt sustainability challenges that they are facing.
I remain deeply concerned by the serious and deteriorating political, economic, social and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and the effects of the crisis on neighbouring countries. Ireland has been active in responding to the crisis and since 2019, we have provided almost €2.5m in funding to respond to the needs of migrants and refugees.
The Programme for Government includes a commitment to a whole-of-Government strategy for Latin America and the Caribbean. This Strategy will act as a framework for Ireland’s developing bilateral relations with the region and I look forward to it being finalised and published in the period ahead.