As seen in the chapter devoted to development aid, the European Community has been granting aid to Latin America as a group of non-associated countries for many years [see section 24.4]. The European Union is aware of its responsibility for development in these countries, home to some of the poorest people in the world. This awareness has been further accentuated since the entry of Spain and Portugal to the EC/EU, two countries which share the same cultural heritage with Latin America. The EU is Latin America's second largest trading partner and the EU is the biggest investor in the region. The new opening provided by the Uruguay Round Agreements [see section 23.4] and the developments in the various integration processes in Latin America are the two vital elements for a stronger Strategic Partnership between the European Union and the countries of Latin America and the Carribean (LAC) [COM/2005/636]. Issues such as social cohesion, drugs, migration and relations with civil society figure prominently in bi-regional dialogues. The regional strategy paper 2007-2013 aims to strengthen the strategic association between the two regions in the political, economic and social spheres.
In giving its support to the development efforts of Latin American countries (at bilateral level) and to their integration efforts (at multilateral level) the European Union hopes to contribute to the political stability and economic and social development of a region of the world which, despite its current economic and social difficulties, is rich in raw materials and is a vast potential market. Thus, the EU develops ever closer relations with regional groupings in Latin America.
In order to facilitate the discussion of topics of common interest, the countries of Latin America created a forum for political consultation called the Rio Group. Established in 1986 with an initial membership of six, it now comprises 23 countries: all Latin American countries plus the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Belize, Guyana, Haiti and Cuba. The other Caribbean countries are represented by one of the full members of this region. The Rio Group is administered by a rotating and temporary secretariat. Since 1999, the EU and the Rio Group meet at Ministerial level every two years alternatively in each region and on alternate years to the EU-Latin America Summits.
In 1986 the European Community concluded a framework agreement for commercial and economic cooperation and development with the countries of the Central American Economic Integration or San José Group (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama) [Agreement and Regulation 2009/86]. On 29 June 2012, an Agreement was signed establishing an Association between the European Union and its Member States, on the one hand, and Central America on the other [Decision 2012/734 and Agreement]. The objectives of the Agreement are to: (a) strengthen and consolidate the relations between the Parties through an association based on three interdependent and fundamental parts: political dialogue, cooperation and trade, based on mutual respect, reciprocity and common interest; and (b) develop a privileged political partnership based on values, principles and common objectives, in particular the respect for and the promotion of democracy and human rights, sustainable development, good governance and the rule of law.
The cooperation agreement between the European Community and the countries of the Andean Community or Cartagena Agreement (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela), places particular emphasis on the consolidation of the regional integration systems and on the respect of democratic principles and human rights [Framework Agreement and Decision 98/278]. The main aims of the agreement are: to stimulate, diversify and improve trade; to encourage cooperation between industrialists; and to stimulate scientific and technical cooperation. A political dialogue and cooperation agreement is under discussion [COM/2003/695].
The European Union is also providing technical assistance to the Southern Common Market, better known as Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay). In the wake of the Solemn Joint Declaration between the European Union and Mercosur, an interregional commercial and economic cooperation framework Agreement between the EU and Mercosur was signed in Madrid on 15 December 1995 [Framework Agreement and Decision 96/205 and Decision 1999/279]. Aimed at strengthening existing ties and preparing for eventual association, this Agreement provides: regular, institutionalised political dialogue; trade cooperation leading to trade liberalisation; economic cooperation geared to promoting reciprocal investment; cooperation on regional integration, intended to allow Mercosur to draw upon the experience of the European Union; and wider cooperation in fields of mutual interest, such as culture, information and communication, training on the multinational integration process and on the prevention of drug abuse. The EU provides assistance to Mercosur through its 2007-2013 Regional Programme.
At bilateral level, new economic partnership and political consultation agreements, paving the way for economic and political association, were concluded in the 1990s between the European Community and Argentina [Agreement and Decision 90/530], Paraguay [Agreement and Decision 92/509], Uruguay [Agreement and Decision 92/205], Brazil [Agreement and Decision 95/445], Chile [Agreement, last amended by 2009 agreement] and Mexico [Agreement and Decision 2000/658 and Protocol]. The agreements introduce several innovations and notably a clause referring to respect of democratic principles and of human rights as a prerequisite for any cooperation between the two parties. Efforts have been stepped up in the area of industrial cooperation and a systematic strategy incorporating training activities has been developed in promoting European technologies and investments in SMEs, with the aim of boosting local output and export capacities.
Financial and technical cooperation with the Latin American countries, mentioned in the chapter on development aid, is targeted on the poorest developing countries [see section 24.4]. The EU's solidarity with the Andean countries which are trying to combat drug abuse has been given tangible demonstration with the extension to Colombia, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador of the generalised tariff preferences applied to certain of the least advanced developing countries [Regulation 3211/90]. In 1991, these arrangements were extended to Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. In addition, the EC/EU has signed with Mexico [Agreement and Decision 97/184] and Chile [Agreement and Decision 98/708] agreements of cooperation in preventing the diversion of certain chemical substances to the illicit manufacture of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.