The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, has returned from his five-day Latin American tour of Peru, Argentina and Chile that was conducted from the 19th to 23rd May.
The tour gave Prime Minister Theresa May some much needed breathing space to attempt to affirm her government’s position regarding what form the UK’s exit from the European Union will take, especially as the Cabinet is still in a state of paralysis over what Britain’s relationship with the customs union will be once the transitional period ends in December 2020.
But also, the trip was an opportunity for Johnson to revive and reinvigorate the beginnings of new UK trading relationships with Latin America. This is because if the Government implements its promise to the customs union, she will be able to strike up her own free trade deals with other sovereign states.
Johnson’s tour started in Peru where he visited the Amazon and discussed environmental issues with President Martín Vizcarra. Johnson’s travels involved launching a UK-funded solar energy project to provide energy for a school located in the Amazon, and the Foreign Secretary also affirmed the continued technical assistance the UK would be providing for the Pan American and ParaPan American Games scheduled to be held in Lima in 2019.
Also, during his trip, Boris found the time to feed some manatees, pet a baby monkey and a sloth, finishing off by dancing with a local schoolteacher. Johnson seemed to enjoy his visit, historically being the first foreign secretary to visit the country for fifty years.
The second phase of Johnson’s trip involved visiting Argentina, where he met with Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie and other government ministers to lay a wreath at the “Monument to the Fallen” to honour those who had died on both sides, British and Argentine, as a result of the Falklands War of 1982.
the Cabinet is still in a state of paralysis over what Britain’s relationship with the customs union will be once the transitional period ends in December 2020
On the 22nd May, Johnson at a press conference with Faurie commented on the continued collaboration that was occurring between the two nations. Johnson talked about how Argentine and British policy was similar in terms of a desire to establish an “intelligent reinsertion” back into the international sphere as the two countries adopt a globalist attitude towards free-trade.
Boris was pleased to exclaim that the “British people are already the second biggest consumers of Argentine wine… and that is before we have begun the free-trade deal that we hope to achieve together”.
Naturally, there was sensitivity regarding the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, but both ministers were adamant that this disagreement would not get in the way of the commercial interests of the two nations. Before Boris left, he had meetings with President Mauricio Macri and praised the economic strategy of the administration.
The third leg of the Foreign Secretary’s whistle-stop tour of Latin America involved visiting Chile on the 23rd May where Johnson discussed with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Roberto Ampuero, the aspirations of the UK to establish greater ties with the trading bloc of Mercosur and to develop a closer relationship with the Pacific Alliance.
Boris Johnson’s five-day trip of Latin America was portrayed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to be one of optimism
Both ministers found common ground concerning the importance of increasing bilateral trade between the two nations, especially as Chile is the UK’s third largest export market in Latin America behind Mexico and Brazil.
Regarding global issues, Chile and the UK both condemned the behaviour of Nicolás Maduro, President of Venezuela, regarding the circumstances of his re-election and expressed concern regarding the political dissolution of the Venezuelan people under his governance.
The Foreign Secretary also stood side-by-side with President Sebastián Piñera vis-à-vis the need to strengthen the international community’s commitment to the rule of law and its condemnation of the Assad regime in Syria’s recent use of chemical weapons in Douma in April.
Boris Johnson’s five-day trip of Latin America was portrayed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to be one of optimism as the Foreign Secretary promoted the autonomy that Britain will have once she leaves the single market and the customs union, being able to negotiate her own bespoke trade deals.
Johnson seemed confident that once Britain leaves the restrictions of the EU she will be able to “[take] back control of [her] tariff schedules” enabling Britain to engage in more global trade due to being unhindered by the self-interest of individual member states of the EU27 and the European Commission.
However, this optimism for a truly “global Britain” jars with the reality that Argentina, part of Mercosur, has been attempting since 2000 to negotiate a trade deal with the EU, and the free-trading nations of Chile, Peru and Argentina will negotiate hard if future trade negotiations are to take place with the UK.
This is especially true since, currently, the UK provides only around 1% of imports in Argentina, Peru and Chile, respectively; nevertheless, the Foreign Secretary, during the course of the tour, was confident that, for the economic prosperity of the region and the UK, this figure would increase post-Brexit and that mutual gains could be achieved between the UK and her Latin American partners.