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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 25-11-2023 10:26

Ireland deepens relations with Latin America and the Caribbean

The Irish commitment to step up our engagement with the Latin America and the Caribbean region has been backed by the EU’s commitment to do the same.

As a small island nation, Ireland has always valued, and depended on, strong relationships with other countries’ governments, businesses, administrations and citizens. We are one of the most outward-looking, globalised nations in the world, with a diaspora of over 70 million people worldwide, including an active Irish community in Argentina and a deeply held commitment to the multilateral, rules-based order and its core principles of consultation, inclusion and solidarity. 

This week, Ireland held an inaugural Business and Economic Forum for the Latin American and Caribbean region in Dublin. The large-scale event, hosted by our Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin, saw attendance from high-level interlocutors from a range of countries, including a virtual address by Argentina's Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero. The Forum provided an opportunity to take stock of our current trade and investment relations, and to examine how to drive further sustainable growth. Sectors as diverse as agri-food and agritech, STEMM, tourism and connectivity were discussed, and new connections were forged across the public, private and academic sectors.

The Forum is just one part of a suite of commitments designed to boost economic links with Argentina and the wider region; other major initiatives in this regard include the Ireland-Argentina Working Holiday Programme, which allows for up to 200 Argentinian citizens each year to work and travel in Ireland for a period of 12 months, and vice versa. 

These events are part of the Global Ireland programme, the most ambitious expansion of Ireland’s international presence ever undertaken, which seeks to double our footprint and impact worldwide, including in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

Under the Global Ireland initiative, we have opened new Embassies in Santiago de Chile and Bogota in recent years, alongside regional Offices for Central America and for the Caribbean. In 2022, we also launched our first-ever Strategy for Latin America and the Caribbean. The Strategy recognises the historical commonalities, shared values, and mutual commitment to the rules-based international order that have always been present in Ireland’s relationship with the region, and seeks to elevate our relations to the next level. 

We are starting from a privileged position in this endeavour, because the links between Ireland and the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, and particularly Argentina, go back for centuries. Argentina is home to one of the largest Irish diaspora communities worldwide and served as the location of Ireland’s first Embassy in the Latin America and the Caribbean region, which opened in 1948. Many Irish people travelled to the region in centuries gone by to make their home, and we know that the Irish were at the centre of many of the independence struggles in countries, including Argentina, where Irish figures such as Guillermo (William) Brown have deep resonance. Today, we are seeing a growing number of Argentinians travelling to and making their home in Ireland, developing new and exciting business and cultural links across a range of sectors. 

Here in Argentina, under the aegis of the Latin America and Caribbean Strategy, we have expanded our footprint and grown our Embassy team, boosting our capacity and engagement across the political, cultural and values-based spheres. We have also, for the first time in 2023, introduced the Government of Ireland Fellowships Programme in Argentina, which provides fully-funded opportunities for early-career professionals from Argentina to undertake a Master’s degree in Ireland. In addition, we are working hard to boost our trade and economic relations with the region, conscious of the significant untapped potential across a range of key sectors, such as agribusiness, ICT, financial and knowledge-based services, tourism and education. The most recent statistics are remarkable: Ireland's merchandise trade with LAC amounted to over €5 billion in 2022, a landmark figure and some 40 percent higher than five years previously. Services trade with the LAC region has been growing steadily in recent times, too, approaching €7.6 billion in 2021 – over double the 2018 figure. Argentina is Ireland’s third largest trading partner in the LAC region, with a total bilateral goods trade valued at just over €640 million in 2022, an increase of 60 percent on 2021 figures. Trade in services is also growing rapidly in both directions. On the investment front, more and more Irish companies are choosing to operate in Latin America, and there are major opportunities for Argentinian companies to base themselves in Ireland as a gateway to Europe. Ireland is an investment destination of choice for many international firms thanks to our pro-business environment, highly educated workforce, and strategic location and access to a market of 450 million consumers across the European Union. Ireland is currently home to eight of the top 10 global financial services companies, 17 of the top 20 global banks, nine of the top 10 US technology firms, and all top five global software companies. With more than 900 software firms in Ireland overall, it is an established internet hub for industry leaders including Google, Meta, X, LinkedIn, Microsoft, and Apple. 

The Irish commitment to step up our engagement with the Latin America and the Caribbean region has been backed by the EU’s commitment to do the same, as we saw earlier this year when the Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, attended the EU-CELAC Summit alongside his EU counterparts and dozens of Latin American and Caribbean leaders, including from Argentina, and reached agreement on a wide-ranging declaration designed to accelerate our partnership. At part of these efforts, the EU’s “Global Gateway” programme aims to deliver investment of some €45 billion across the region, and work on expansion and deepening of the EU’s comprehensive network of trade and association agreements with the region is continuing.

Facing an increasingly challenging geopolitical space, and with the global population more inter-connected than at any other time in history, Ireland is more determined than ever to work with the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean to generate a new period of enhanced relations and close partnership. This month’s Business and Economic Forum represented another leap forward in Ireland’s relations with Argentina and the wider region, and is further testament to our steadfast commitment to deepen our economic, political and cultural ties.

 

* Micheál Martin, Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister

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by Micheál Martin, Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs

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