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Speech by Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier at the celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the Lateinamerika Verein at the Federal Foreign Office

06.07.2016 - Speech

Mr Liesenfeld,
Estimada Señora Bárcena,
Honoured Members of the German Bundestag,
Excellencies,
Representatives from Federal and Land ministries,
Honoured guests,
Queridos amigos,

These days, foreign policy speeches usually begin by looking at the countless crisis regions in our world – a world out of joint, seemingly the worst imaginable world.

This seems to be confirmed by the images transmitted every evening to Germany’s living rooms. I understand that this all means many people have a pessimistic view of the world and its future ... and I admit that foreign policy has not got any easier.

It is not just the many crises we have to deal with. They are also different crises, that is to say less the classic conflicts between states and more new kinds of conflict, triggered by non‑state actors engaged in conflict with their own state for ethnic or religious grounds or, as we see in large sections of the Middle East, the erosion of state order as we know it.

This changes the playing field for foreign policy but it is not cause for despair.

And it is certainly not cause to assume we are living in the worst imaginable world.

A while ago, Moritz Rinke, one of the most important playwrights of our time, published an absolutely wonderful novel entitled “The man who fell through the century”. I’m not going to recount the ups and downs experienced by the protagonist and his family but you can probably guess what I am getting at. If we do not look just at the present but back over a longer period, the pessimistic attitude to the future gets put very much into perspective.

Let’s take a look at the 100‑year history of the Lateinamerika Verein we are celebrating today. The one‑hundred year history of the LAV has of course seen much in the way of crisis, disappointment and tragedy. It saw two world wars, periods of dictatorship and state tyranny in South America, organised crime and economic crises all across Latin America. But despite Venezuela and Brazil, Latin America has, compared to the situation 40 and 80 years ago, seen a very positive process of consolidation. And, before we go into things in more detail, that is why Latin America is the part of the world we look to with hope and confidence.

Despite all the concerns of our time, we certainly have no reason to make a secret of the proud history of the LAV. On the contrary, we have every reason to celebrate this centenary cheerfully, confidently and thoroughly!

And I am delighted that the LAV decided to celebrate its centenary in and with the Federal Foreign Office – so a very warm welcome to all of you!

***

100 years of the Lateinamerika Verein – that is 100 years of exchange, trade and cooperation! Initially between Hamburg merchants with international ambitions and their partners on the American continent. It was not long before a vibrant and dense network developed with all those interested in Latin America in the German economy and beyond.

The LAV is a valuable partner for the Federal Government and is held in high esteem. It also represents our Latin American partners in Germany. It is a strong and broad bridge to a continent which for us Germans is very far away. I was able to see for myself just how far away only a few weeks ago: a long flight through the night to Buenos Aires – I’ve rarely had such a good sleep in a plane...

On this last trip, but also previous trips to the region since I assumed office for the second time – to Cuba, Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Colombia and Argentina – I sensed something else, namely, how close we are to the people on this continent despite the geographical distance. This closeness and this connection is what we want to celebrate this evening – and we have every reason to do so!

***

Germany’s relations with Latin America and the Caribbean are special. Shared values and many similar interests, as well as the close cultural connection rooted in history, create a unique foundation for our cooperation, a cooperation we do not have with other parts of the world.

Latin America and the Caribbean have undergone various forms of transformation in recent years and decades. They have grown in both economic and political clout, a fact reflected in the new assurance they demonstrate in the international arena. In some Latin American countries, new political movements and balances of power are leading political action in a new direction. Since Germany is keen to put the traditionally close ties and shared interests we have with Latin America onto a secure footing for the future, we have stepped up our engagement in Latin America and, I hope, are seen as a reliable long-term partner.

I would like to cite just three examples of bilateral cooperation to pay tribute to the many broad and active connections we have to this region:

- Germany has a close strategic partnership with Brazil: This finds expression above all in the intergovernmental consultations where the two Cabinets meet every two years for intensive negotiations. This special format is one Germany only maintains with very close partners, outside Europe thus far only with China, India, Israel and Turkey. I hope very much that through our close cooperation we can help overcome the economic difficulties in Brazil.

- Secondly, we very much welcomed Cuba’s reform process and opening. That is why I, as the first Federal Foreign Minister to do so, visited Cuba about a year ago – even before my American colleague – to talk to our partners there about where we are after years of estrangement and lack of communication and to signal in Cuba that we want to make a positive contribution to the process of change. A few weeks ago, the Cuban Foreign Minister visited me in Berlin and we talked about the next steps. On the agenda now are negotiations on an agreement on cultural affairs and above all also on an office of German business in Cuba. Both are important to us!

- One final example: Colombia. I paid my first visit to the country in early 2015 and was very impressed by the political and economic progress. And now, just a few weeks ago, I, I’m sure like many here in this room, breathed a sigh of relief at the agreement on the ceasefire and the disarmament of FARC rebels. We cannot overstate the importance of what has finally happened. After decades of bloodshed, after more than 300,000 fatalities, after a conflict that touched each and every family in Colombia, finally the people are able to breathe a sigh of relief. Also with my Special Envoy to the Colombian Peace Process Tom Koenigs, Germany is continuing to actively support Colombia on its road to peace and reconciliation, for example by assisting the judiciary as it deals with the conflict, by providing assistance for the victims and helping integrate the internally displaced.

***

Those are three political examples but particularly in the business sphere our relations with Latin America are extremely close. Germany’s trade relations with the countries on the continent are the oldest Germany maintains in the world. Since its founding as the Ibero-Amerikanischer Verein, the LAV has played an active role. 1916 – a hundred years ago! Just imagine, the World Cup hadn’t even been invented! German-Argentine and German-Brazilian relations were a clean sheet...

1916: In Valparaiso in Chile, in Montevideo and Buenos Aires, the first German chambers of commerce abroad were set up that very year. A month ago, I had the privilege of helping celebrate the centenary of the chamber in Buenos Aires.

Many German businesses have been active in Latin America even longer, some go back much further than 100 years – and to this day they are respected and held in high esteem in the region. And conversely, many emerging economies with high growth rates in Latin America have become attractive business partners for Germany. The growth in the region’s economic strength is at the same time also reflected in the greater presence of Latin America in international fora. Following Mexico’s lead, Chile joined the OECD in 2010.

Yet major challenges persist: for example, falling prices on the global commodities markets. What is more, infrastructure is in many places in urgent need of renewal and extension and, needless to say, German businesses and cutting-edge technology “Made in Germany” stand at the ready: for infrastructure, transport, logistics and urbanisation, but of course also for energy, particularly renewables and environmental technology, the health sector as well as shaping the digital revolution.

Thankfully, negotiations on a free trade agreement between the European Union and Mercosur are also advancing. We’ve been negotiating this agreement since 1999! Of course that is not quite a hundred years, but sometimes it feels like it! We are delighted we are finally getting to exchange market access offers. Although there are still sensitive points on both sides, I believe there’s now a realistic chance that the agreement can be concluded. That will give German-Latin American economic relations a further boost.

***

I cannot finish today without turning to another arena – no, not football – where Germany and the countries of Latin America have forged the closest of bonds. The close cooperation in the field of culture, education and research underscore a cultural connection that has grown over the years. Four weeks ago, I for example opened the German-Mexican Año Dual which with more than a thousand events in Mexico this year aims to provide as many Mexicans as possible with the whole story about our country, Germany. In parallel, we are staging the German-Mexican year here in Germany.

Latin America is constantly becoming more important in the sphere of science, research and innovation. The same applies to promoting and extending German as a foreign language.

There are 760 schools in Latin America where German is taught. We want to further boost this sphere as well as the dual system of vocational training, a system in which Latin American countries are extremely interested.

And now that we are talking about education and culture, we of course also need a hint of the Caribbean. I invite you afterwards to spice up the Berlin summer not just with the EURO 2016 but also with some Caribbean calypso! Starting on 8 July, the Haus der Kulturen der Welt is hosting a festival, co‑funded by the Federal Foreign Office’s cultural relations and education policy, with merengue, mambo and calypso, with music from Guadeloupe, Saint Lucia and Venezuela – so pretty much everything you need to get in the mood for an easygoing summer, that then just doesn’t want to start...

***

For us, the LAV is and remains an indispensable pillar of our relations with Latin America.

I congratulate you and your members most warmly on your centenary. Happy anniversary, Lateinamerika Verein, and here’s to another successful century!

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