Speaking today Mr Swire said:
Just over a year ago, I made my first visit to Paraguay and had the privilege of re-opening our Embassy in Asuncion. And when I met President Cartes, I was greatly encouraged by his personal commitment to: reforming his country; creating jobs; and tackling poverty.
I see he is delivering on that commitment, with a busy and productive year: passing key laws on fiscal responsibility; transparency; and Public Private Partnerships, which will help create the right business environment in Paraguay and encourage foreign investment.
And I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate him and his Ministers on what they have achieved so far.
Their success is directly relevant to what I want to speak about today:
• How the United Kingdom is determined to deepen its commercial ties with a rising Latin America
• How Paraguay is a perfect trade and investment partner for us;
• Why we must do all we can to drive up further trade between our two countries, to achieve our mutual prosperity.
The UK’s links with Latin America go back a long way. We were the first country to recognise the Independence of many of the Latin American Republics that gained their freedom in the 19th century.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, the UK was the leading investor in most Latin American countries - with much of the region’s external trade passing through, or destined for, Britain.
And British engineers helped to transform Paraguay into one of the leading industrial powers in South America. They helped build the railways, shipyards, a foundry and an arsenal. When I visited Asuncion, I remember seeing in the impressive central railway station, one of the first British-made steam locomotives to operate in the region.
Unfortunately, in the aftermath of World War II, that golden era for British trade and investment in Latin America passed into history, and we lost market share steadily as the twentieth century progressed. To some extent, the UK withdrew from Latin America.
But this Government has turned that around. As our former Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said almost four years ago to the day, in his Canning House speech: “We turned away from Latin America just as the region began to forge ahead: we believe that now is the time for Britain at last to think afresh about Latin America and the opportunities it presents”.
Four years on, we have seen that vision become a reality:
• Britain is back in Latin America. We have opened new Embassies in San Salvador, Port-au-Prince and of course in Asuncion;
• We have sent more Ministers and diplomats to the region, to foster new trade links between the UK and Latin America.
And today’s event serves as an excellent example of both our revitalised efforts – and our firm belief that Paraguay in particular offers significant opportunities for business partnerships.
Over the next few years, opportunities will be opening up in hydrocarbons, infrastructure projects and financial services.
On taking office, President Cartes described Paraguay as the ‘hidden treasure’ of Latin America. I agree with him: Paraguay boasts an abundance of natural resources; a low and simple tax system; competitive energy prices; and a stable macro economy.
Last year the economy grew by over 13%; it is estimated to grow at around 4% this year; and over 6% in the years ahead. These are impressive figures.
So, the conditions are ripe for British trade and investment. The British Embassy in Asuncion has set an ambitious target of trebling British exports to Paraguay by 2018 – which it aims to achieve by helping both British businesses already operating in Paraguay and those that are looking to enter the market.
One way it can help is through its British Business Centre, located in the Embassy, offering British companies office space while they seek to establish themselves in the market.
Other ways are through practical advice and support from its UK Trade and Investment staff, including: trade missions; financial support; introductory market advice; identifying partners for joint ventures; or hosting networking events and product launches.
I am pleased to see there are already a significant number of British companies with a presence in Paraguay or with plans for significant investment that have been supported by the Embassy - companies like Amerisur, President Energy, BAT, Diageo, Unilever, and De La Rue.
President Energy recently announced an historic first discovery of oil in the Paraguayan Chaco region - marking a significant milestone for Paraguay - and opening excellent opportunities for British companies with expertise at all levels of the hydrocarbons sector. Amerisur also hope to start drilling later this year, in the San Pedro region.
And in the financial services sector, De La Rue – who were instrumental in the printing of the first Guarani bank notes back in the 1940’s - have returned to Paraguay after recently securing a contract with the Central Bank to print its new bank notes.
So my message today is simple.
To British companies, I say that Paraguay offers you a wide range of exciting opportunities to grow in a business friendly environment, with the full support of your own Government.
And to our guests from Paraguay, I say that if you are looking for a world-class trade and investment partner, you need look no further than the UK – the fastest growing economy in the G7, a gateway to the European Union, and a nation with businesses who offer a wealth of expertise in precisely the areas you need.
I believe that by combining our strengths with Paraguay – President Cartes’ “hidden treasure” – we can recapture that adventurous spirit of our golden era.
So, let us make the most of the valuable opportunity we have today. Let us unlock the real potential in our deepening commercial ties. And in doing so, I believe we can look forward to some very exciting years ahead.