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Ukraine set to haunt EU summit with Latin American countries as it looks to tie up trade links

European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen, top, left, meets with Chilean President Gabriel Boric at La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, June 14, 2023.
European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen, top, left, meets with Chilean President Gabriel Boric at La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, June 14, 2023. Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Aida Sanchez Alonso
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Brussels sees the region as crucial to reducing its dependency on China for critical raw materials.

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The war in Ukraine looks set to become a bone of contention at a summit between the EU and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) that starts in Brussels on Monday.

It will be the third EU-CELAC summit with more than 60 leaders in attendance. Similarly to the last meeting, which took place eight years ago, the aim is to relaunch both political and economic relations.

But positions on the conflict launched by Russia against Ukraine more than 500 days ago vary on either side of the Atlantic.

"Latin American countries have been quite hesitant in condemning Russia for a variety of reasons," Gustavo Müller, a researcher at the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies told Euronews.

"One of those has to do with a more pragmatic approach. Latin American countries have their own economic ties with Russia and they cannot simply cut those ties because of a war that in their view is happening in Europe.

"At the same time, they also have their own reason that comes from a tradition of being Global South countries that have taken quite a solid approach of neutrality."

This divergence of views is complicating the drafting of a joint statement set to be published at the end of the summit. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will not be attending the meeting, but experts say it should serve, above all, to advance some of the EU's pending trade agreements, such as updates to those with Chile and Mexico.

The same goes for the much anticipated Mercosur deal, with Europe still holding out for the inclusion of tougher environmental commitments.

Spain's Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares, said in an interview that the support of countries in South America is important.

"If you take the different trade agreements that we have been discussing with the different countries of Latin America for many years, the best way of making sure that the environmental standards are respected in Latin America is advancing and signing and ratifying those agreements," he said.

"If we want Latin America to turn its back on Europe and to look to other partners that don't share the same concerns about the enviroment, then we just have to put them aside."

The EU also wants to promote investment in the continent, particularly in critical raw materials that South America is rich in, with Brussels allocating €10 billion towards this and Spain €9.4 billion, which it hopes will be complemented by aid from other countries.

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