An ambitious future for UK-Latin America relations

By Kirsty Hayes, British Ambassador in Argentina

200 years after Britain first began establishing diplomatic ties with the independent Latin American nations, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly visited this region to renew the UK’s relationship with Latin American and Caribbean friends, focusing on climate, values and the shared bonds between our peoples.

As part of his visit, the Foreign Secretary gave a speech setting out the UK’s approach to the region, officially launching bicentenary celebrations of UK-Latin America relations in British embassies across the continent. This happens two centuries after then-Foreign Secretary George Canning played a pivotal role in guaranteeing the independence of the region’s new states, for example, by appointing the first Consul General to Buenos Aires in 1823. Two hundred years on from that revolutionary period, the tectonic plates of world politics are shifting once again.

As the Foreign Secretary said, our position is clear: respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, self-determination and human rights must prevail, alongside democracy, the rule of law, liberty and freedom. Free and fair elections are the foundation of any stable, healthy democracy, and we know these values are shared across Latin America, although not yet enjoyed by all.

The support of Argentina and other Latin American countries in the United Nations for Ukraine’s right to defend itself against Russian aggression has made clear that your values are similar to ours.

We will continue supporting the Falkland Islanders and their right to decide their own future. The UK, Argentina and the Falkland Islanders have shown how much progress can be made when working together under the guidance of humanitarian principles, as demonstrated in recent years with the identification of Argentine soldiers buried in Darwin.

But protecting self-determination and democracy is not the sole challenge. We live in a world of rapidly increasing threats and climate change is the most urgent example. The UK and Latin America have a key role to play in steering climate action: at COP26 in Glasgow, we pledged up to £300 million to protect the Amazon.

Our shared focus on critical minerals, green hydrogen and sustainable infrastructure is crucial to delivering this vision. Academic and technical collaborations with the UK will help unlock the huge potential in the region to drive the electric-vehicle revolution, take ownership of energy and food security, and insulate your populations from geo-political shocks such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the subsequent spike in fertiliser prices.

And we should not neglect people-to-people ties. Spanish is already the second most popular foreign language in British schools. We have welcomed thousands more Chevening scholars to British universities, and the British Council has reached more than 100 million people across the Americas last year.

Although UK trade and investment with Latin America recovered strongly last year from their post-pandemic low, we recognise there is much more to do on this area, as Latin America represents only 2% of UK imports and 2.5% of UK exports worldwide. The total value of imports and exports rose by a massive 45% last year to more than £40 billion (with the UK-Argentina aggregate trade exceeding £2 billion for the first time ever). And the UK’s imminent accession to the Trans Pacific Partnership, joining Mexico, Peru and Chile, is a positive step forward.

There are also excellent examples of cooperation in areas such as gender equality and human rights. Last year the UK and Argentina completed a three-year tenure as co-chairs of the Equal Rights Coalition (ERC) – an intergovernmental body of 42 member states committed to protecting the rights of LGBT+ people worldwide. During that period, we worked closely with Argentina to successfully develop the first ERC strategy and five-year Implementation Plan.

These examples, amongst others, show how partnerships between the UK and Latin American countries can make a real difference, not just to our security and prosperity, but to that of the whole world.

We should be ambitious for our future relationship. As a representative of Latin America’s oldest friend, I want to work even closer with you, our friends in Argentina, to make this happen.

Editorial disclaimer

Freedom of expression is a core value for the Buenos Aires Herald.

Although the UK refers to the territory as the “Falklands Islands,” Argentina strongly contests this name. The Buenos Aires Herald uses “Malvinas” to refer to the islands.


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