Viewpoint : Liam Fox

Latin America is a dynamic and exciting region. The distance from Mexico in the north to Argentina in the south equates to that between London and Singapore, which means that the region holds many opportunities for countries like the UK. Fast-growing populations and an ever-increasing middle class encourage a market for quality goods and services; however, it also presents challenges for regional governments. These challenges are being met through major infrastructure investments and growing services such as health and education.

Countries with ample resources, like Brazil and Argentina, are rightfully ambitious, looking to play a greater role in the global economy and deliver better standards of living for their citizens, and the UK is more than ready to help them achieve these goals. Indeed, our companies are already delivering new hospitals and transport infrastructure, and we are the partner of choice in supporting the 2019 Pan-American Games in Lima.

Since 2015 Brazil has drawn up £2bn ($2.7bn) worth of contracts to UK companies that support its growing energy sector. As global trade faces challenges from rising protectionism, many countries in Latin America have embraced the benefits that new global trade links can bring to their businesses and consumers. I was honoured to attend the biennial World Trade Organisation’s Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires in December 2017, a clear demonstration of Argentina’s commitment to enhancing global trade. While protectionism previously held back the country’s potential, Argentina is now benefitting from increasing global trade. In 2017 the UK announced £1bn ($1.3bn) worth of funding for UK and Argentine businesses to trade with each other, marking the first time in 20 years this kind of support has been offered.

From what I saw on my visit to the region in 2017, countries like Colombia are also looking to trade, as it embraces global opportunities after years of internal conflict. We are ready to support Colombia in its trade efforts, and have provided the country with £4.5bn ($6bn) worth of funding to that end.

In addition, the UK appointed Joanna Crellin as Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner to Latin America and the Caribbean (LATAC) in April 2018, highlighting Latin America as one of the nine global regions seen as vital for UK companies that are looking to expand their businesses abroad. LATAC already receives £9bn ($11.9bn) worth of UK exports a year, and is listed by the World Bank as the fourth-largest region by GDP, though potential risks include being held back by barriers to trade or the rise of protectionism.

Therefore, the UK is working with individual LATAC countries to identify and reduce those barriers that slow down trade or add unnecessary expenses to businesses. In early 2018 we saw the signing of a Patent Prosecution Highway agreement with Brazil at trade talks in London. This will support UK and Brazilian businesses looking to trade in the other’s markets, and the prioritised examination of patents will make it quicker and easier for companies to protect their intellectual property.

We have also seen measures taken to ease trade restrictions through a four-year Regulatory Coherence programme. Technical assistance from the UK will help improve regulatory practices in Brazil, making it easier for companies to trade under similar standards. We also welcome, and indeed were a leading supporter of, the agreement between the EU and Mexico, which virtually eliminates tariffs between the two countries.

Latin America has a lot of potential, from its young growing population to its vast resources; but there are also challenges, namely, improving living standards while ensuring sustainable growth. Trade and growing links with other countries are the best ways to seize that potential and manage those challenges.