EU Hosts Latin American, Caribbean Leaders to Catch Up to China

EU Hosts Latin American, Caribbean Leaders to Catch Up to China
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

The Lede: A summit of the EU and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in Brussels early this week aims to shore up relations between the two regions amid the latter’s increased ties with China in recent years and divergent views on the Russian War in Ukraine.

What We Know:

  • More than 50 leaders from across Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean met in Brussels for a two-day forum to re-kindle ties between the regions that have been neglected in recent years. The EU is looking to move forward on key economic fronts including a trade agreement with Chile, the world’s largest copper producer and second-largest lithium producer, as well as previously negotiated deals with Mexico and the Mercosur bloc, which includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay.
  • EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that the EU was planning €45 billion ($50.6 billion) of investment in Latin America and the Caribbean as part of its Global Gateway scheme, widely seen as a rival to China's Belt and Road Initiative of infrastructure investments.
  • The two sides encountered challenges in addressing the Russian War in Ukraine as CELAC countries remain hesitant to clearly condemn Russia. European leaders also tip-toed around language surrounding proposed reparations for slavery and genocide.

The Background: The last summit between the EU and CELAC took place eight years ago in 2015. At the time, China was overtaking the EU to become Latin America’s second-largest trading partner. By 2020, China’s trade with the region grew to $310 billion, a 26-fold increase in two decades. China has significantly expanded its influence in Latin America and the Caribbean through political and soft power cooperation in that time. Europe seeks to reduce reliance on China and secure minerals for electric vehicles and the broader transition to a low carbon economy.

Likely Outcomes:

  • The summit is unlikely to produce much substantive change in policies, but will get the ball rolling on increased interest between the two regions for future meetings and spark potential cooperation. Discussions that may have stalled in the past between EU and CELAC countries could return to the table once again in light of this meeting and the changing geopolitical landscape.
  • China is likely to step up efforts to engage with Latin America and the Caribbean even further if momentum builds between the latter and Western countries, especially as Beijing looks over the trajectory of its own economic development. Brazil and Argentina have shown particular enthusiasm regarding currency cooperation with China.
  • With a couple of exceptions, Latin American and Caribbean countries will likely follow the U.S. lead as a default and turn to China or otherwise in particularly attractive opportunities. In this way, the region will be able to walk a middle way between the unfolding divergence in the global order and may make more diversified agreements across the competing blocs.


“Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe need each other more than ever before. The world is taking a hard impact for the Russian aggression against Ukraine, and this happens against the backdrop of China’s growing assertiveness abroad.” - Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission

“China’s growing influence in Latin America is a great concern. We must make efforts to prevent China’s monopoly and counterbalance its huge investments in Latin America in mining and processing of critical raw materials. Unlike China, the EU is not interested in making Latin America its vassal.” - Jan Lipavský, foreign minister of the Czech Republic

“Latin America and the Caribbean was not a priority for Europe. We do appreciate that Europe is coming back to Latin America and the Caribbean. We don’t want to limit that comeback just to the consequences of the war.” - Gustavo Martínez Pandiani, Undersecretary for Latin American & Caribbean Affairs of Argentina

Good Reads:

EU aims to be 'partner of choice' for Latam, Caribbean in pivot from China, Russia (Reuters)

Europe tries to win Latin America back from China (Politico)