Higher education: a key aspect of the EU-LAC cooperation


“What do we want?” “Pizza and a beach body! More EU-LAC cooperation in Higher Education”!

Once upon a time, Higher Education cooperation was not needed. Erasmus was never created in Europe. Between 1987 and 2014, 3,770.000 individuals – the population of Panama – did not benefit from Erasmus. In 1987, 3,244 students from eleven countries did not embark on an international adventure, while 329,000 people – the combined populations of Barbados and Saint Kitts and Nevis – from 34 countries did not carry-out a mobility in 2013-2014. The number of beneficiaries was hence not multiplied by 100 over 27 years, and the threshold of 20% of all graduates from the European Higher Education Area having spent a period of time abroad by 2020 was never a goal. Can you imagine such a story? Luckily, all of this actually happened. Although these facts could be questions for a Friday night trivia at your designated Erasmus bar, they also show how important and attractive international mobility is in Europe.

LAC-wide, the Regional Academic Mobility for Accredited Courses at MERCOSUR-level, the Exchange and Academic Mobility Program of the Organization of Ibero-American States (68 institutions from 19 countries involved in 2016-2017), and the Pacific Alliance scholarships program (about 400 yearly) exist; however, the multiplication of LAC-integration systems attempts and the lack of higher education concerted policies between LAC-countries are clear obstacles to a truly ambitious international cooperation, while more and more young people enroll at universities and demand international possibilities.

Erasmus+, through Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degrees (EMJMD), International Credit Mobility, Strategic Partnerships, Knowledge Alliances, Capacity Building and Jean Monnet actions, is open to LAC-countries. Nevertheless, they do not take full advantage of it: although 72 LAC-institutions (out of 242 Partner Countries institutions) are involved in at least one of the 38 selected projects of the 2016-2017 EMJMD call for proposals, the participation imbalance among LAC-countries is striking: 34% are Brazilian institutions, four countries (Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Ecuador) are home to 75% of participating LAC-institutions, only 11 LAC-countries out of 33 are represented, and none is Caribbean. Regarding Jean Monnet, none of the 198 2016-2017 selected projects involve LAC-institutions, which demonstrates a total lack of interest for and understanding of the EU. Even the Spice Girls, who sang “if you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends”, originally wanted to say “if you wanna be international, you gotta get with some partners”. True story. While the word “internationalization” seems trendy in LAC and the EU and the CELAC are talking about a Euro-Latin-American Area for Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, this situation is worrying, all the more so as Mexico, Brazil and the CELAC are EU-Strategic Partners. If they are indeed committed to this Area and to the EU-CELAC Academic Summits, the Brussels Declaration and the Action Plan 2015-2017, the EU-LAC cooperation must be reoriented.

Nonetheless, fear not, dear reader, for successful examples of EU-LAC cooperation exist: the Erasmus Mundus Action 2 project “Academic Mobility for Inclusive Development in Latin America” (AMIDILA), implemented between 2013 and early 2017, has been one of the most unique cooperation projects in recent years. It funded 203 mobility scholarships for students, scholars and staff from eleven Latin American and nine European universities in twelve fields related to inclusive development. It served both as a mobility program and a capacity building project since most Latin American universities were not very active internationally, making inclusion a core component institutionally as well. AMIDILA perfectly illustrates the benefits of the cooperation.

The new generation wants and needs higher education to be put at the top of the cooperation agenda, so will the October EU-CELAC Summit be a momentum for academic cooperation? Will Higher Education be at the center of EU-LAC relations in the foreseeable future? Is the EU-LAC Higher Education Area a real possibility? And most importantly: does Jon Snow really know nothing? These questions require answers, and projects and actions like AMIDILA, EMJMD, Capacity Building, Jean Monnet and International Credit Mobility seem like a worthy investment. The creation of a fund financed by European and willing LAC-countries would be a proof of commitment. “Willing”, because LAC is not an integrated area, so countries or groups of countries (ALBA, CARICOM, MERCOSUR, Pacific Alliance, SICA) ready to compromise could start partaking in it, and other members could progressively be integrated: undertaking small steps at a time is the best way forward, as it is regarding the EU-integration. In that respect, the EU-LAC Foundation would have a big role to play, while the 2017 EU-CELAC Summit represents a chance to reiterate the commitment to academic cooperation and move closer towards a common Area for Higher Education, at a time when the USA are losing interest in LAC and Erasmus celebrates 30 years.







Dear Brexiters, dear EU-sceptics (part II)

This article is the follow-up of “Dear Brexiters, dear EU-sceptics (part I)” from June, 27th 2016. This will also be the last one of our series on the Brexit, because there are many more important things to talk about – even though I give you that it still comes as a schock for many of us. We have heard many random things saying that the Brexit won’t happen for various reasons and that we should keep believing the UK will stay, but let’s cut to the chase: it won’t, and we need to stop hoping for something that just won’t happen. If anything, that would just be anti-democratic, and the lack of democracy basically is one of the major problems nowadays.

If we think globally: who in the world will benefit from the Brexit? The answer seems clear: everyone, especially China, Russia and the USA. Why? Because they were already the most powerful countries. The EU as a whole was not even a match for them in terms of global influence, and without the UK it loses quite some weight. Eventually I hope the EU will get stronger if it equips itself with a real common diplomacy – the UK was a strong opponent to this, so now it might actually be possible. The Brexit in that respect is a chance for the EU to play a bigger role on the international stage, and as a consequence to represent an alternative to the USA, China and Russia.

For the UK, however, it will be very hard to play a significant role in our globalized world. It will most likely follow the American diplomacy, but it seems unlikely that it will be of any weight on the international scene. It will try, because its ambitions have always been huge, but with the current geopolitics I do not see how it could regain its former glory. Colonization and wars are no options anymore.

As far as diplomacy is concerned, I think it was a pretty bad and stupid move to vote out of the EU. It is literally chaos in the Middle East, terrorism strikes on EU-soil and you pull out of a bloc because you think that the EU-laws on immigration are responsible for the flow of undocumented immigrants, and that among this illegal immigration terrorists hide? This is just nonsense, you won’t be able to stop illegal immigration: you will only have succeeded in being left alone in the war against terrorism. The EU would have been the solution, had it taken care of the problem satisfactorily. But let me remind you Brits that your government contributed to the EU not taking any good decision immigration wise: these laws and deals did not just magically appear, they came from our governments.

Economically, the EU will probably make your life harder than it really needs to be. The UK might rejoin the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), just like it was a part before joining the EU, in order to still be a part of the European Economic Area (EEA), with all the benefits that this status grants to its members. However, this is when things could get complicated: this status also implies obligations, which are to respect the “four freedoms” that are the free movement of goods, services, capitals and… people. The latter will probably be a problem, because immigration is one of the main reasons why the UK decided to leave the EU. There is absolutely no way that the EU bends over and lets the UK assume some obligations and leave others aside. The solution will probably be this one: the UK will have to accept the free movement of persons, but will try to cut its social aids to the immigrants as much as possible. Also, just like Norway and Switzerland, it will have to contribute to some extent to the budget in order to keep the EEA running. The UK will probably have to compromise a lot more than the EU, which as said before will be in a position of strength because of its size. But this is just theoretical, maybe the UK won’t rejoin the EFTA. However, I am confident that the UK’s economic links to the EU will still be strong, but I highly doubt they will be as strong as when it was still an EU-country, because the EU Member States will give priority to other EU-countries, meaning the UK will have to find new allies to fill the loss of income – and Latin America and the Caribbean seems like a fair bet.

There is also a huge political domestic risk for the UK to be dislocated. The Commonwealth is not really worth anything anymore, and the UK is actually made up of four “countries”, two of which (Scotland and Northern Ireland) voted in favor of staying in the EU. There were already claims in these countries to leave the UK (Scotland had organized a referendum on staying in the UK in 2014, and the remaining camp had won by 55.3%, partly because the UK was still part of the EU). It does not seem so unlikely now that the UK could lose Scotland and Northern Ireland (which is already talking about reuniting with Ireland) and be left with only England and Wales. That would not be a united kingdom anymore, so there is a risk that the UK as such ceases to exist on the long-term and becomes even smaller. Leaving the EU was a really bad move in terms of British integrity preservation.

In addition, I would like to say a word to all Brits that voted for a Bremain, especially the young ones. We appreciate you wanting to stay in the EU. I think it is a shame that you will be deprived of some of your future international perspectives within the EU. Regarding the student mobility program Erasmus that has proved – and still does – very helpful to create bonds between young people(s) all over Europe and gave job opportunities to thousands and thousands of young Brits, do not worry: if our leaders are clever enough, you will still be associated to Erasmus to some extent – Great Britain will just have to pay for the scholarships because the EU won’t. Anyway, knowing that your parents and grandparents are responsible for the Brexit must be very hard. This is not like voting for a Prime Minister, knowing that its term will end in five years: leaving the EU is a permanent decision and you have been deprived of it by people who will be dead in those five years for some of them, leaving you wake up bitter in ten years still out of the EU. And for that, I can’t think of any solution. Unfortunately, this is the problem with permanent decisions: they are permanent.

Finally and most importantly maybe, the UK said no to a project that is failing, with which it does not agree. I usually defend the EU, saying that it is by nature a reflection of what the Member States are, and I stick to my opinion. The EU is not the real problem, the Member States are, and this vote will not change the fact that the UK is a part of the real problem – just like every single one of the 27 other Member States. That said, the EU, because its functionaries officially work for the EU and not for the Member States, also has its share of responsibility. The EU needs reforms and a new Treaty; it needs people who have strong opinions and a vision above all, who are committed to advancing, not bureaucrats who are merely following orders from other bureaucrats that are incompetent and sometimes corrupt. Federica Mogherini (Head of the European diplomacy) has a limited English and no experience regarding diplomacy, Jean-Claude Juncker (President of the European Commission) has been involved in the LuxLeaks corruption scandal and arrives drunk to meetings, and the Commissioners (that no one actually knows and who are suggested by the Member States themselves) are sometimes corrupt or completely out of place (for more information see article “The EU-institutions: the European Commission” from June, 14th 2016). A long due change is urgently needed, because we are heading straight to the wall.

The political and economic “elite” that gets these high-profile jobs and insane piles of cash (that we EU tax payers partly give them) think only of its own interests: they come straight from business schools, political institutes, and have absolutely no clue whatsoever about what they are doing and no vision or ideas regarding the EU. Businessmen decide our diplomacy and design our humanitarian aid programs, politicians are on top of the chain when it comes to wealth distribution and justice, etc. I might be exaggerating a bit, but you get the picture. That just cannot be. Maybe that needs to stop, maybe we need people who are passionate about their work and have an actual field of expertise, maybe the most important EU-leaders should be directly elected by the peoples, and maybe some of the current ones should seriously consider resigning. David Cameron still had the guts to quit – and I am far from being a fan of the man. Blaming it all on Great Britain and its people without even considering for a second that the EU may also be responsible for this mess is a proof that something is wrong, and not realizing it is a proof of a worrying stupidity.

Having ideas and opinions nowadays is a bad thing. Once on Twitter, I replied to a question of an EU-institution on how to improve development cooperation, saying that we need European functionaries who can speak the language of the country they are based in when they work in EU-Delegations, especially when this country speaks a language that also exists within the EU. Well, I was told it was impossible and called an idealistic straight away (for more information, see note “Citoyens Européens, réveillez-vous” from May, 9th 2016). That example sums it up: there is a serious lack of logic, ambition and result-driving within the EU, because this was fairly realistic and straight forward. The EU belongs to the citizens: it is time to realize that. Time for a change.

Dear Brexiters, dear EU-sceptics (Part I)

Democracy has spoken: the United Kingdom (UK) is out of the European Union (EU). In a way this is not necessarily bad news: the Brits decided to say no to a system that they feel has failed them, and their decision should be enforced. Now, I am not saying that you will be better off without the EU, because I really do not think you will, but at least you will have tried (although probably not in the best possible way), so let’s cheer to that. That said, this is a sad day for the EU obviously. I am disappointed and angry, especially because that means that you have decided to turn your back on the values that the EU stands for – unity, solidarity and peace – out of particular interests, but we can only respect your decision. We can only work with what we are given, and what we are given is a Brexit.

However, let’s be clear: the UK is not the Beyoncé of the EU, and its solo career is quite uncertain. But if there is one country that can make it outside of the EU, it may well be the UK. The price to pay might be higher for the UK than for the EU on the long term, simply because it stabbed us in the back and the EU won’t forget that. Also, because it is a small country that is alone and that has always had big ambitions, while at the same time other countries in the world are huge or forge strong alliances that come in the form of regional integration systems, such as the EU. That may sound a lot like the 18th and 19th centuries, and Great Britain did not do so badly at the time (well except the constant wars of course), but there is a huge difference nowadays: we live in a globalized world, and the UK is neither big nor part of a strong alliance anymore. And guess what: it won’t, since all of its neighbors are already in an alliance (the EU), unless that alliance collapses. And here is the problem: I refuse to believe that the EU will collapse.

I give you that it is hard to be positive when only a few days have passed. I am not British, so I won’t be affected as a Brit but as a European. And here is how I decide to see things: some sort of balance within the EU has been broken, no doubt about it. The only way the EU will survive is if it resumes to being the EU that it used to be a few decades ago, when things were rolling. Sure, it will be a difficult path, but we are facing a simple choice: it is changing or crashing, so I hope that the Brexit will serve as a wake up call. A lesson, as hard and sad as it is, must be learnt. The EU has lost a battle, but it still has a war to fight. We, the citizens, have the responsibility to fight for what we want. And what I want is a harder, better, faster, stronger EU. Isn’t that what we all should want after all?

There are huge negative effects to this separation, but if we can turn them into benefits, I believe everything will be just fine. This article will hence be about that: what will a Brexit change? How can we turn this defeat into a victory? What can we do?

First, let’s take a look at the main reasons why the UK decided to exit. There are a few of them, among them: immigration, the fact that it was losing more and more power to the EU, the impossibility to negotiate preferential agreements with some Third countries, and its contribution to the EU budget.

As far as numbers are concerned, immigrants account for a tiny part of the UK society, so what was this fear even about in the first place? First, we need to tell legal immigration and illegal immigration apart. When we talk about legal immigration, we mean mostly EU immigration, and the fact that EU-citizens can go to the UK to work and get social benefits. Well, the UK was not ok with this. And it was not ok with welcoming political refugees either. And it was not ok with illegal immigration (=people fleeing war and death and did not have the “chance” to have a political refugee status), because immigrants are bad, bad people, and they are responsible for all your domestic problems. Well, guess what? There is no such thing as a massive immigration flow to the UK (legal and undocumented) and anyways it won’t change much since shutting down immigration (especially illegal immigration) is impossible. Exiting won’t change that. What it will change, however, is that if the UK makes labor and legal immigration harder, then the EU will make incoming immigration from the UK equally hard, may it be for business or travel purposes. This can’t be a win-win situation, this will only be a lose-lose situation. But domestic political battles (errr David Cameron) have their reasons that the reason ignores.

Another reason for a Brexit is the impossibility for the EU Member States to negotiate separate bilateral commercial agreements with Third countries. The EU was not in favor of negotiating with China and India, but the UK was. The same happened with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the USA: the UK was ready to accept anything while the rest of the EU was quite reluctant. I am tempted to say that the Brexit is a good thing in that respect, because both the EU and the UK will be able to do as they please: the UK will be able to negotiate with the USA, China and India – but still these three countries won’t be quite satisfied, because one country compared to 28 countries does not quite represent the same market – while the EU won’t have any pressure to do so. Generally speaking, when it comes to negotiating commercial agreements, it can definitely be an advantage to be a country. Let’s take the example of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) (for more information, see article “the Brexit and the relations with Latin America and the Caribbean” from March, 12th 2016): one of the main reasons why trade between the EU and these countries has never really taken off is that LAC countries have always been reluctant to negotiating with the EU as a block (or rather they can’t agree with each other), so that it creates an imbalance that the EU, a group of countries by nature, cannot correct, so the LAC region is the one that necessarily needs to adapt. The UK will have a bigger chance at a fruitful commercial relation with this sub-continent, because it is something that the EU is not: a country. Obviously, it will need to swallow its pride, because as a country it will not be more powerful than bigger countries such as Brazil or Mexico, and also the UK trade balance is negative with some other countries, especially Colombia and Argentina, so it won’t exactly be in the position of demanding.

As far as the budget is concerned, the solidarity principle applies within the EU, meaning that richer countries necessarily pay more and proportionally get less return on investment than poorer countries (although the UK fully benefited from the Single Market and dit get a lot more return on investment than most countries). This rule has always been pretty clear, and yet the UK had already obtained a cut in its financial contribution to the budget. Obviously, that was not enough, and we can regret once again that the UK decided not to play by the rules when it reckoned that these rules did not exclusively favor its own interests. From the moment you decide to be part of a supranational organization, you should at least think a tiny bit of the greater good, so I do not reckon that the UK should have benefited from so many favors in the first place, or that quitting out of particular interests was fair.

Finally, as a supranational organization, the EU by nature takes on more power to the detriment of the countries. Of course, the UK had always seen the EU as a mere market to play in, it has never hidden the fact that is was against a closer union, but with the years passing, it was getting obvious that the economy would not be the only EU field of competency. Yes, the UK decided not to take part in the Schengen Area and the Eurozone, and blocked as many decisions as possible that implied more delegations of powers to Brussels, but what did it think? That this would just stop? Many countries and EU-citizens were getting quite fed up with the reasoning and selfishness of the UK, so the question is: why didn’t you exit earlier, when you saw that there was no turning back? In the middle of an economic, institutional and security crisis, exiting is a really bad timing, and blaming the EU for all your domestic problems seems a bit simplistic. In case you Brits wonder why the EU citizens and leaders are disappointed and angry, the answer is easy: you begged us to be a part of the EU, yet you were never a part of its spirit, and eventually you let us down at the worst possible time in the history of the EU. I believe it will take some time for the EU to trust you again, so do not expect our leaders to make your life easy, because you most certainly did not make ours easier.

That said, the Brexit, most and foremost, is a hard blow for the EU’s equilibrium and for the most liberal countries. At the Council of the EU (which represents the interests of the Member States at governmental level and takes the major decisions, for more information see note “The EU-institutions: the Council of the European Union” from May, 30th 2016), a decision can be blocked by a minimum of four Member States representing 35% of the population of the EU. As a consequence, it was quite common to see an economic measure blocked by the “liberal bloc” (25% of the total EU-population), which was, among others, integrated by the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and the UK, and Germany sometimes joined forces to achieve the necessary minimum of 35%. With the UK (one of the three biggest EU-countries) out, this bloc will represent only 15% of the total population, and even with Germany that would not be enough to achieve the 35% of the population needed to block an economic measure. That means that these countries will have to seek the support of conservative countries, which won’t be such an easy task. In that respect, the Brexit means a breach in the economic and political balance between the member States that somehow will need to be restored for an opposition to even exist.

Also, the three biggest countries (France, Germany and the UK) used to lead the EU. Germany and the UK, although with some substantial differences, had more or less the same position towards the EU, and France was often forced to tag along and adapt to them. With the UK out of the picture, that leaves Germany vs. France without any other country to weigh in, meaning that these two will either have to coincide (good luck on that), or give more power to another EU country – most likely Italy if it came to that. The basic question will be this one: does Italy have big enough shoulders to fill the empty seat, or could Germany and France get along well enough to lead the EU together? For now, it seems likely that Italy could join the club, because Merkel and Hollande have very different opinions about the EU integration. However, Italy is closer to France than it is to Germany, so Paris would gain a lot of weight. Knowing that, would Merkel allow Italy to be “promoted”? And finally, Germany has been the backbone of the EU for the last decade or so. In case France and Italy took the decisions and Germany was left aloof, what would happen to the EU and its survival? This point is extremely important and needs to be taken care of cautiously: the EU was originally created to protect and guarantee peace. This is why Germany, France, Italy and the Benelux gathered together in the first place, and this is why countries such as Portugal, Greece and the former communist bloc were integrated, making it almost impossible to take decisions with 28 Members. Peace has always been chosen over consolidating the EU so far (although not always for good reasons), and I believe it was eventually the right choice. Nowadays, the balance between the decisions-takers must at all costs be preserved. All Member States will need to make sacrifices.

We have to work with what we are given, and what we are now given will soon be an EU with 27 Member States. I believe that this still is too much to function efficiently and to make progress, so a “multi-speed” approach might be needed. This is already the case of the Eurozone and the Schengen Area, so I believe this would be the wisest path to follow from now on. France, who is in favor of an ever-closer EU, and Germany, more reluctant to this idea, would not need to agree on everything, and none of them would feel frustrated. Sure, that would make the EU as such even more complicated than it now is, but each country would communicate on what it is a part of, so eventually that would not make each country’s role within the EU more complicated. Until then, France and Germany would need to agree that a “multi-speed” EU could be the only way around preventing the dissolution of the EU. In that respect, I hope the exit of Great Britain, which was a supporter of this idea, will serve us right, and that the Member States won’t take it as a sign that the biggest obstacle to the EU-integration has been overcome, because there are many others, like corruption ans standstill.

The Brexit and the relations with Latin America and the Caribbean

It has been quite trendy lately – no, I am not talking about Leo’s Oscar: The UK is to vote in a popular referendum on June, 23rd 2016 on whether it wants to stay in the EU or leave it. The so-called “Brexit”, like Brangelina, is a popular telenovela. While I personally believe it is not so unlikely that Brits say “No” to Europe, redefining Britain’s relationships with the world would not be a piece of cake. While I agree that we have been misinformed about the case and that finding a detailed investigation on the financial benefits/disasters that an exit would trigger is as hard as finding brains in Kim Kardashian’s body – it probably exists but it is kept secret – the British Cabinet Office recently released a vague report on the possible outcomes of a Brexit. Well, my friends, it does not look very bright. Sure, the Cabinet Office follows orders from Prime Minister David Cameron – who is campaigning for a “Yes” to staying in the EU – but the report seems about fair: it concludes that it would take more than a decade for the UK to renegotiate its commercial relations and treaties with its most precious allies – that is the EU, the USA, Canada, India and China mostly. But: what would become of its relations with Latin America?

First, what needs to be understood here – and again that is a complex matter given the lack of public information – is that its effective withdrawal from the EU would at least take months, during which it would be hard – if not impossible – to engage in commercial negotiations with Latin America right away. Many LAC-countries have trade agreements with the EU as a whole (that includes the UK), but not with the UK specifically. Now, the first question that pops into one’s mind is as follows: would every single LAC country see enough benefits to sign agreements with the UK? The answer is yes, of course. But what about the content? Everything would have to be renegotiated (from custom taxes to intellectual rights). The strength of the EU is its overall weight all countries combined, but taken one by one, it is a different matter. The UK would have to make sacrifices, and after leaving the EU because there were too many sacrifices involved, how many of these same sacrifices would it be ready to make and demand from its partners? That sounds like a whole lot of sacrifices to me! The UK would not be able to impose one-sided rules, because let’s be frank: it would not weigh more than come of its LAC counterparts that are much bigger in size; besides, it would desperately be in search of partners. You can argue all you want – as Ian Duncan Smith (the work and pensions Secretary) puts it: “The in campaign’s whole strategy seems to be about basically saying we’re too small, we’re too little… This country is the greatest on Earth” – the UK really IS small (hear France say that it still is a grande nation, yeah right).

This, to my mind, has a lot to do with the post-colonial era, and in the British case, the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is not really worth anything anymore to anyone except the UK itself, which seems to be holding on to it like a bear to Leo DiCaprio – against all odds, the bear dies in case you did not know. Even Canada wants to free itself from the Queen. And you think the whole world wants to “be in a relationship” with you at any cost? International relations are no Facebook status. Go explore the globe, Sir Smith, and you are most likely to face a shock. You actually do not need to go far: go to Scotland, which will probably opt out from the UK to join the EU in a few years by the way. See what I mean? Leaving the EU might also eventually mean the end of the UK – and the notion of Commonwealth.

Now, let’s jump to the relations with LAC countries and a bit of maths to prove my words:

10 biggest commercial partners of the UK in LA, values expressed in $US bln

Country Exportation Importation Balance of trade
Brazil 3.91 4.18 -0.27
Mexico 2.23 1.78 0.45
Chile 1.63 0.775 0.855
Colombia 0.535 1.5 -0.965
Argentina 0.598 0.822 -0.224
Peru 0.354 0.593 -0.239
Ecuador 0.401 0.221 0.18
Costa Rica 0.102 0.290 -0.188
Uruguay 0.184 0.125 0.059
Bolivia 0.0657 0.103 -0.0373
Total 10.0097 10.389 -0.3793

Source: Own conception based on figures and maps from the Observatory of Economic Complexity, year 2013

As we can see, in 2013 the UK had a total trade deficit of about $38M with its biggest LAC commercial partners. Although it does not seem to be much, it still represents nearly 1.86% of its total value of exports and imports combined in the region. While the balance trade is in the UK’s favour with Mexico and Chile, it is not with Brazil – its biggest partner in the region – Argentina and, above all, Colombia. Of course, none of these countries make it in the top ten of its worldwide partners – not even in the top twenty. There is no doubt that the EU is its biggest partner, and that it would remain so. The UK might rejoin the EFTA (just like it was a member before joining the EU) so that it would still be integrated into the European Economic Area, but the Brexit would still affect this partnership, making it necessary to strengthen its cooperation with some of its current partners.

Let’s take a look at the traded goods now: the UK exports mostly cars, medicaments, petroleum, and gold (“surprisingly” no manufactured foodstuffs make it very far), while it imports mostly the same goods in less quantity, which basically means that it imports a more diversified array of products than it exports. To put it in other words: it will have to export its surplus of cars, petroleum, gold and medicaments that would not be exported to there any longer: many LAC-countries have petroleum and gold, they can import more cars from Germany and the USA and medicaments from other European countries if they want, so to speak. The percentage of these British exportation goods in the country’s trade balance with the world does not even match the percentage of the same imported products in LAC-countries from Great Britain. In the meantime, the UK will still need the products that it imports from there. As a matter of fact, the loss of Britain as a partner would not be as catastrophic for LAC-countries as for the UK, both economically and politically: sure, LAC economies would have to go through the hassle of finding other partners, but it would be able to replace the UK while the latter figures out its new status. No one is irreplaceable – except Beyonce, although, a bit like the UK, she seems to be the only one to believe that.

Finally, there is a third element I can think of – and that is a more positive note for the UK. There is a reason why all agreements between the EU and LAC-countries have never really taken off despite clear commercial potential in both regions and the existence of bilateral agreements: the lack of understanding of each other culture, history and reality. The EU has this “I am developed and superior to you, so suck it and accept my terms” approach, whereas LAC-countries stubbornly refuse to negotiate with the EU block to block and hence as an equally mighty partner (they are not able to agree and speak as one voice), creating a de facto imbalance of power and blaming the EU for having more power as a whole than them as countries alone (to be fair they are not totally wrong). The UK would need to measure its actual weight as a country and not as part of a bigger ensemble. In that respect, it may greatly benefit from it because it would be something very appealing that the EU is not: it would be a country and would negotiate as such, not as a block.

So, apart from the fact that some of you Brits would eventually need to learn Spanish and Portuguese just like LAC-countries learn English – really, that is not a joke, I myself realized that my French would not take me anywhere near Latin or America – there will be short-term decisions to make: which partners can you really count on in that region as of now? The good thing is that you have not screwed them over too badly (well, still quite a bit). Pure economics is not everything: the attitude, I believe, plays a big part as well. The Brexit could be a chance to deepen ties between the UK and the developing economies of Latin America if addressed correctly, but not with people still thinking that Great Britain is the greatest nation of them all. This is exactly this attitude that the LAC region, which was once colonialized by Spain and Portugal among others, resents so much. That means the UK would need to swallow its pride. The world will not be a new playground for “colonial wannabee” ambitions, especially the LAC region: the UK would have to treat them as equals and with respect. And if in their minds that means lowering themselves, then so be it.