SANTIAGO, Chile — European and Latin American leaders representing 60 nations tentatively agreed Saturday to work together on a broad agenda, including reducing trade barriers and risks for foreign investment, making new climate change commitments and rethinking the war on drugs.
But the talks reached an impasse Saturday as Venezuela insisted on changing a phrase the Europeans wanted regarding investor protections in the summit declaration leaders will sign Sunday.
The Europeans are upset over unilateral moves by left-leaning Latin American governments to recover their natural resources and protect their economies.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has nationalized a long list of foreign companies, sometimes triggering compensation disputes. Bolivia nationalized several Spanish electricity distribution companies last year while Argentina has refused to pay Grupo Repsol $10.5 billion for expropriating the Spanish company’s stake in the YPF oil company.
With the conflicts in mind, European Union diplomats had wanted leaders to promise to give foreign investors “legal certainty” by respecting “international commitments and obligations.”
But an EU delegate told the AP that they finally agreed on Saturday to substitute Venezuela’s phrasing, which says nations have a legitimate right to set their own economic regulations and social development policies.
“Venezuela was unhappy with the language, so they were able to come up with new language based on Venezuela’s text. It has been agreed. The EU has accepted this,” the EU delegate told AP on condition of anonymity given the closed-door nature of the talks.
A press official at Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry in Caracas declined comment, but Chavez’s government has long insisted that Latin American governments should have full independence in setting the rules for their economies.
Last year, Venezuela began its withdrawal from a World Bank-affiliated arbitration body, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes. A top government lawyer said at the time that Venezuela faced more than two dozen arbitration cases, many of them before the Washington-based body. Argentina, for its part, leads the world in the number of World Bank arbitration settlements that it has refused to pay.
Bolivia’s delegation praised Venezuela for standing up to the Europeans. “Venezuela is advocating for the sovereign right of counties,” Bolivia Communications Minister Amanda Davila told the AP. “It’s right to look after its economic interests.”
Diplomats told the AP that foreign ministers had agreed to nearly everything else in the final declaration of the summit, in which 33 Latin American and Caribbean governments and 10 European Union countries are participating.
A 13-page draft of the declaration, obtained by the AP, includes pushing for stronger limits on greenhouse gases and supporting an effort in the United Nations to thoroughly re-examine how governments are responding to organized crime and drug trafficking.
Aside from the document, European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht on Saturday urged Argentina and Brazil to reduce barriers to European imports and finally clinch a long-delayed free trade deal between the EU and the Mercosur trade group, which last year expanded to include Venezuela.
“Mercosur includes some of our most important economic partners on this continent so it is no secret that Europe would like to have made more progress in these talks by now,” De Gucht said. “On the core issue of access to each other’s markets we have still not gotten down to business.”
Bolivia, for one, was in no hurry, Davila said. When it comes to the rights of nations to determine their own economic policies, she said “President (Evo) Morales considers that the CELAC Summit would have been better without the EU altogether.”MORE IN Wire News
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