04 Mar Event Summary: The Future of UK-Latin American and Caribbean Trade After Brexit
On 25th February 2019, the BFPG co-hosted an event with the London School of Economics and Political Science, Latin America and Caribbean Centre. The event built upon the BFPG’s event last year on Latin America and subsequent report Revitalising UK-Latin America Engagement Post-Brexit. The panel, Ambassadors and representatives from a dozen Latin American countries, and the audience were invited to consider the state of UK-Latin American relations and the potential for post-Brexit trade.
The panel included:
Dr Steven Woolcock Associate Professor of International Relations and head of the International Trade Policy Unit, LSE
Joanna Crellin Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner for Latin America and the Caribbean and British Consul-General in São Paulo
Dr Christine Côté Senior Lecturer in Practice, Department of Management
Professor Francisco Panizza Professor in Latin American and Comparative Politics
Over a dozen Ambassadors, Minister Counsellors and Trade Representatives from Latin American embassies were present in the audience. Embassy representatives were invited to participate, providing perspectives from their countries and reflecting on the arguments presented by the panel.
Joanna Crellin is one of nine Trade Commissioners appointed by HM Government last year to work alongside the UK’s diplomatic network to promote British trade abroad. Crellin acknowledged the disappointing historic lack of trade between the UK and Latin America although was unfaltering in her optimism for the potential future of these relations. Dr Christine Côté presented an academic argument for why trade between the UK and Latin America has historically been low, pointing out that despite globalisation, geographical barriers to trade, such as distance still matter.
‘It’s not about appetite but about perceptions’
The panel agreed that the hurdle to increasing trade between the regions is not a lack of appetite from the Latin American markets and businesses, but rather a need to change perceptions and raise awareness about Latin American trade in the UK.
Representatives from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Costa Rica and Ecuador shared their perspectives. While they agreed that relations can and should be improved, there was also general agreement that distance is not the decisive factor in this. For example, Brazil’s largest trading partner is China, a country which is almost double the distance further than the UK. Representatives argued that an increasing Latin American voice in international institutions, such as the OECD, is helping to improve attitudes. However, the UK should actively work with to deepen trade links into services such as banking – rather than just importing goods such as fruit – through regulatory alignment.
Professor Panizza noted that critically examining the UK’s relationship with the US, Europe and Commonwealth countries over the last century demonstrates the capacity of international relations to change and adapt to the times. This is encouraging looking forward to the potential post-Brexit future for the UK in trading with Latin America. While the narrative of the event was largely about the UK’s responsibilities, Panizza put the onus on Latin American and Caribbean countries too. While, of course, there are important historical legacies and nuances involved, many parts of Latin America have had slow productivity and growth for decades. As a result, the region needs to actively try to improve their perceptions in the UK to truly be an interactive party in trade relations.
The Embassy representatives showed concern about the political toll that Brexit has taken on the UK as so much energy is being spent on just the process of exiting alone. This has led Embassy representatives to be wary as it is unclear when the UK will have the time to consider any new free trade agreements that address issues like regulatory alignment in a meaningful way.
However, the panel remained positive about the capacity of cultural cooperation to help improve relations immediately after Brexit. For example, as also noted by several Latin American Ambassadors, British tourism has increased in recent years as direct flights to Latin American and Caribbean countries have become more widely available. This has allowed for increased awareness of Latin American countries among the public which can contribute to changing perceptions. Furthermore, Professor Panizza argued that perceptions of Britain remain positive, for example, the substantial following of the English Premier League in Latin America. These exchanges of culture provide preliminary vehicles to improve ties between the UK and Latin America and should be utilised by governments seeking to increase trade.
HM Trade Commissioner Crellin argued direct bilateral relations would be the most effective immediate strategy to ensure UK-Latin American cooperation after Brexit, pointing to the UK’s most recent cooperation with Chile as an example. Directly working with Latin American and Caribbean states on bilateral regulatory alignment and sharing Latin American business success stories in the UK to increase public awareness will help change perceptions in the short-term. This can ultimately lead to the fundamental change in perceptions that will allow the potential for UK-Latin American trade relations to be realised.
To read more on the BFPG’s work on Latin America:
- LSE Blog Post by HM Trade Commissioner Joanna Crellin and Edward Elliott (22nd Feb 2019): How can the UK strengthen its relationships with the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean?
- BFPG Report by Edward Elliott and Dr Thomas Mills (29th Nov 2018): Revitalising UK-Latin America Engagement Post-Brexit
- 2018 BFPG Event Summary (19 Sept 2018): UK-Latin America relations post-Brexit