Straight talk

Australia and Latin America’s strategic relationship

Senator the Hon Bob Carr, Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs, speaks at the Latin America Down Under Conference, Sydney, 29 May 2013

Five hundred and twenty years before Pope Francis I, his predecessor Alexander VI divided the New World between Spain and Portugal.

Today, we are all part of the latest phase of the globalisation that began half a millennium ago.

It began with Latin America; and now, in the early 21st Century, Latin America is emerging as a major new engine driving the global economy.

In its current phase, the scale and scope of transformation is so vast, so immediate in its impact on every region and nation, that we emphasise its uniqueness.

But it is useful, from time to time, to remember that we are part of a long, unfolding, continuing history.

That applies, not least, to the relations between Australia and Latin America.

Just a year ago, I had the pleasure of addressing the first ever Latin America Down Under conference.

I referred then to a speech by one of my predecessors as Australian Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans.

He was speaking on the 500th anniversary of the voyage of Columbus in 1492.

He was upbeat – and insightful – about the prospects for change then underway in Latin America.

But he deplored what he correctly described as the “minimal contacts” between our two continents, Australia and South America.

Yet this was not the case in the century and a half before the First World War.

The Atlantic-Pacific ocean route was important for Australasia before the opening of the Suez Canal.

The founding governor of New South Wales, Captain Arthur Phillip, was chosen for his “mission impossible” partly because he had served in the Portuguese

Navy and knew the first part of the route into both Indian and Pacific oceans.

The hospitality of Rio contributed largely to the success of the First Fleet voyage in 1787-88.

The first Australian Labor Party Prime Minister of Australia, John Christian Watson – formed in 1904 – was born in Valparaiso, Chile, in 1867.

He was the son of the master of the brig Julia, which traded between South America and New Zealand.

From the 1870s to the 1920s, the economies of Australia and Argentina ran parallel.

They were rivals for British investment and trade, experienced the same high living standards, and the same cycle of booms and busts.

The commercial and financial ties between Argentina and Britain were so close that some historians classify the Argentina of the late 19th and early 20th centuries as part of Britain’s “informal empire” – the Monroe Doctrine notwithstanding.

Indeed, the New Zealand historian James Belich devotes a chapter to the settler economies of Brazil and Argentina in his book Replenishing the Earth – the Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo World.

He is bold enough to entitle that chapter Adopted Dominions – but backs off quickly by adding a question mark!

Nevertheless, as Dr Belich points out, it was not until the industrialisation of North America got underway in the 19th Century that the major economic divergence between the United States and Canada, and the west of the Western Hemisphere, really opened up.

So, in the great sweep of history, it is better to speak, not so much of the emergence, but of the re-emergence of Latin America.

And to speak of a renewal of the relationship between Latin America and Australia.

And in both these matters – Latin America’s re-emergence and a renewed Australian relationship – the mining industry is at the forefront.

Soon after last year’s inaugural Latin America Down Under conference, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, became the first Australian Prime Minister to visit Brazil.

President Dilma Rouseff and the Prime Minister announced a Strategic Partnership between our two countries.

Their comprehensive communique recognised the central importance of mining not only to our own economies but to the sustainability of the global prosperity.

In 2011, Brazil overtook the United Kingdom economy; last year it was the world’s seventh largest.

PricewaterhouseCoopers expects it to be the sixth-biggest economy by 2030, and the fourth biggest by 2050.

Standard Charter is predicting those shifts to come even sooner, possibly overtaking Germany and France by 2020.

Chile is the world’s largest copper producer.

The third-largest molybdenum producer.

And, as Chile’s President Piñera pointed out, when he visited Australia last September, Australia is the largest direct investor in Chilean mining.

Together, Australia and Brazil are the top two suppliers of iron ore in the world.

Peru is the second-largest copper producer and the sixth largest gold producer.

Argentina has the third largest shale gas reserves, after China and the United States.

Australian mining investment in Latin America has arguably been light-years ahead of a more general link between our continents.

And it’s growing fast.

Only four years ago, there were only 20 Australian mining companies operating in Latin America – now there are 80, involved in more than 200 projects.

The potential for investment is huge – as much as $150 billion over the next decade.

Australian miners have a record of international excellence.

The reputation of Australian mining is built not just on skill at digging, but also on the care for environmental issues, for the well-being of local communities.

Our miners are also ambassadors for Australia overseas.

We will continue to back our industry in its efforts to spread the skills of sustainable mining around the world.

In July last year we ran sustainable mining workshops in Peru and Mexico, with participants from across the region, funded by Ausaid.

In Sydney last week, Ausaid ran a mining for development conference.

And because we know how important it is to support financial transparency around mining – particularly in emerging economies – last week we hosted the conference of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

And we have joined the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights in the Extractive Industries, another global effort to build support for sustainable mining.

Australia and Latin America have similar resource endowments and common environmental issues.

This gives us an opportunity to work together to advance multilateral interests, including trade liberalisation, food security and climate change.

Secondly, we have a great opportunity to work together in science and technology.

The CSIRO operates a Centre of Mining Excellence in Chile, and has close collaborative links with its Brazilian counterpart, EMBRAPA.

Thirdly, we will continue to support the education and services links between our two regions.

The most widely taught language in Australian universities, after English, is Spanish.

And I’m pleased to see that the Australian National University will start its new Portuguese language course in the second half of 2013.

Last year, we were happy to receive more than 30,000 enrolments from Latin American students.

Their presence here further enriches our multicultural society.

And it’s a great way of building personal links between our two continents.

It’s remarkable how often exchange students go on to take senior roles back in their own societies – which means future leaders who know what Australia is about, know what our country is like and what matters to us.

Some of them will also stay on in Australia, choosing to build their lives here.

The social vibrancy of Latin America is famous – but Australia, too, is a diverse and rich place in which to live.

Opportunity for all, regardless of social or ethnic origin, is fundamental to our success as a culture and society.

And fourthly, through the Council on Australia-Latin America Relations – who are launching their new logo today – we will continue to support sport and cultural links.

Next year, we will support Australian contemporary circus company Circa, which has already toured five continents and, in April 2014, will perform in the Ibero-American Theater of Bogota – a major cultural event in Colombia.

We will also support a Rugby Sevens programme in Latin America.

Further, today, we launch a publication with the Lowy Institute of Australia and Brazil, Great Southern Skies.

In the 21st Century, national success will lie not only in a nation’s own strengths in the way it conducts its domestic affairs, but also in its ability to engage with our globalised world.

As regions become more important – as prosperity, economic openness, democracy and good governance become more widespread – success will also be determined by the links we build and maintain with other countries.

From Australia’s perspective, Latin America is a region of vast potential on the rise – our mining industry has shown it understands that as clearly as any industry.

Our job, in government, will be to make the most of the links we have, to set a stage in which new ties can be built, and encourage the interaction that will be to our mutual benefit.

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