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Article by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for Rossiyskaya Gazeta Supplements in the Latin American Publications Clarin (Argentina), Folha de Sao Paulo (Brazil) and Observador (Uruguay)

‘The New Stage of Development of Russian-Latin American Relations’

1250-24-08-2011

Russia's relations with the states of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) have deep roots that go back centuries. They have had ups and downs during their long history, including sometimes a rigid ideological confrontation.

However, in spite of all the vicissitudes of fate our peoples have never ceased to have interest in each other. Obviously, geographical distance is no obstacle to mutual respect, friendship and cooperation in the most diverse fields. For, our countries represent unique civilizations with a rich historical and cultural heritage and significant economic potential.

In accordance with the Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation, approved by President Dmitry Medvedev, the development of cooperation with the LAC states is one of the priorities of the international activity of our country. The line of Russia on strengthening the multifaceted partnership has a long-term strategic character and is based on pragmatism, the desire to materialize in mutually beneficial projects and other concrete actions, the mutual attraction and sympathy of our countries and peoples.

We are united by the closeness of our views on key issues in world politics and economics. This is of particular importance, since the LAC is acquiring ever greater weight in international affairs, becoming one of the centers of the emerging new polycentric world order, designed to become more democratic and stable, and relying on collective and concerted action with regard to the generally recognized norms of international law, cultural and historical traditions. Leading states in the region are increasingly involved in shaping the global agenda. Three of them - Brazil, Mexico and Argentina - are among the 20 biggest economies in the world. Russia is also working with Brazil, along with China, India and South Africa, in the promising BRICS format.

We stand with our Latin American partners as natural allies on issues such as the need to ensure the rule of international law, strengthening of multilateral mechanisms for resolving international problems and the central role of the UN, and the search for collective responses to contemporary challenges and for solutions to global environmental problems. Our views practically coincide with regard to reforming the global financial architecture and international trade rules, the importance of respecting the cultural and civilizational diversity of the world and avoiding splits on civilizational grounds.

Recently, the development of ties with the states of the region has gained strong positive momentum. Our countries demonstrate their mutual focus on the intensive buildup of cooperation on the basis of equality and mutual benefit across the widest spectrum of issues. In just the past three years 22 summits and more than 60 high-level meetings have been held, and over 70 bilateral documents signed – nearly half of about the hundred and a half over the past two decades.

Meetings between government agencies, inter-parliamentary dialogue, and foreign-office consultations have acquired a regular character. My just-concluded visits to El Salvador, Peru and Venezuela are called upon to give new impetus to the intensification of our cooperation.

Today, a fundamentally important task is to buttress the political dialogue with a developed system of trade and economic ties. The more so as there are all preconditions for that: the region’s rate of economic growth is very high. Goods turnover, having declined in the crisis period by almost a third, amounted to $12.4 billion last year and in the first five months of this year reached $7.4 billion, which allows it to look to the future with optimism.

Not only increasing the volume of trade, but also expanding its range, primarily on account of high-tech products, appears topical. It is well known that many Latin American countries at the global level are developing high technologies, including nuclear. Several promising space projects are being advanced by joint efforts.

There is a growing interest in the region among the Russian business community, including in the sphere of energy and hydrocarbon production. Major Russian companies Lukoil, Gazprom, RAO UES, Rusal and a number of others work in Mexico, Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Guyana and Cuba. Negotiations are under way to deepen cooperation with Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Chile. Schemes to involve small and medium-sized businesses are being worked out.

A factor in deepening cooperation is the creation of branched interbank relationships. There is already the Russian-Venezuelan Bank in place. Russia’s Vnesheconombank has signed cooperation agreements with the Andean Development Corporation and the Latin American Association of Development Financing Institutions. The possibility of Russia joining the Inter-American Development Bank is being considered.

We note with satisfaction the positive experience of cooperation in humanitarian and rescue operations and assistance to countries affected by natural disasters. We are working to establish a regional center of Russia’s Emergencies Ministry in Venezuela and a disaster warning and response system in Nicaragua.

The best traditions of Russian-Latin American exchanges in the cultural and humanitarian field are being revived. There are about 300,000 of our compatriots living in the region’s countries, which is a serious mainstay for launching joint humanitarian actions. Work is advancing in the educational sphere; the Latin American Alumni Confederation of Russian (Soviet) Educational Establishments has been created and is operating.

We see the visa-free space gradually widening, which contributes to the expansion of business ties and contacts between people. Relevant agreements are in force with Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Peru, Chile; another has been signed with Ecuador, and those in the development stage are with Guatemala, Panama and Uruguay.

We are consistently developing cooperation with all the regional political associations there, including the Organization of American States. We are engaged in political dialogue with the Rio Group, and maintain contacts with the South American Common Market, Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of the Americas, the Central American Integration System and the Caribbean Community. We watch with interest the activities of the Union of South American Nations, and the rise of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which has all the chances to consolidate the integration processes in the region, and to give them a “common Latin American denominator.” We note the importance of Cuba’s full-fledged integration into the Latin American community.

Our multilateral cooperation within APEC opens up new prospects. During the Russian chairmanship in 2012 we are going to accentuate the practically significant joint initiatives, including the development of trade and economic infrastructure, cooperation for the modernization of our economies and ensuring energy security.

We are convinced that augmenting cooperation, which we intend to build on a pragmatic, de-ideologized, equal and mutually advantageous basis, serves our common interests. We expect that this policy will continue to resonate positively with our partners in the region, and its consistent pursuit will bear witness to the fact that a new stage is being established in our relations.