The UK and Latin America - Latin American Investment Forum speech

The Minister of State for Europe and the Americas, Alan Duncan, spoke at his first Latin American Investment Forum

The Rt Hon Sir Alan Duncan KCMG MP

Thank you Ambassador. Your excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen – good morning. It is a pleasure to be here for my first Latin American Investment Forum as Minister for the Americas. And i’d like to thank you, Francisco, for you warm welcoming words, and your team for organising the forum, and the sponsors for making it possible. And, particularly, my thanks to the Brazilian Ambassador for kindly hosting us today.

Now, as Minister for the whole of the Americas, it would be remiss of me not to touch on the topic that is probably on all minds this morning. And let me say something very clear – we congratulate President-elect Trump on his democratic win. And our Prime Minister has joined other world leaders in congratulating President-elect Trump. The enduring relationship between the UK and US is based on the common values of freedom, democracy and enterprise, and we look forward to working with President-elect Trump to continue building on those already very strong foundations.

Now to the main topic of the day. Britain’s relationship with Latin America is built on strong foundations as well. Our historic and cultural ties go back more than 200 years. Indeed, Britain gave more support to the 19th Century independence movements in Latin America than any other foreign power. We played a significant role in trade and the early economic development of the region.

So as well as being a significant day for other reasons, yesterday also marked six years since the British Government launched its Canning Agenda, which is our strategy to revitalise our historic relations with Latin America. And six years on, those relations are flourishing. This May, for instance, saw the first visit by a British Foreign Secretary to Cuba since 1959; in September I became the first Foreign Office Minister to visit Argentina since 2009, and last week saw the first ever State Visit to the UK by a Colombian President.

And our priority in launching the Canning Agenda was to promote economic development and to support British business in the region. And that remains our priority today. On the day of the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics, our Trade Minister Lord Price reminded an audience at British House that business, like sport, can also unite us. He wanted Brazilian investors to know that, post-Brexit, the UK was “open for business”. And as we start the process to leave the EU, and the United Kingdom looks to forge new partnerships across the world, we will also look to strengthen relationships with our existing partners in Latin America and the wider world.

Now the Prime Minister has committed to starting that departure process by the end of March next year. I believe that leaving the EU will broaden our horizons, not narrow them. The United Kingdom will be more active, more outward facing, more energetic on the world stage than ever before. We will be a country with the self-confidence and the freedom to look to the economic and diplomatic opportunities of the wider world.

Our own economy is strong. It is resilient – the second-fastest growing major economy in the world last year, and one of the top 10 in the world for competitiveness. London remains the world’s leading financial hub. We’ve got the largest market share in the world for financial services. We lead other countries in insurance, computer and information services. And we sit in exactly the right time zone for global trade. And, perhaps if I dare say it in front of this audience, we like to think that our language is the language of the world.

We will continue to play a leading role on the world stage. We will remain a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the 2nd largest contributor to NATO and a leading member of the G7, the G20 and the Commonwealth. And in everything that we so in reaching out abroad, we will remain a passionate advocate of the values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law.

So we hold fast to a vision of a Global Britain that is respected abroad, tolerant at home, engaged in the world and is working with our international partners to advance the prosperity and security of our country and others. So we are a country with a long and proud tradition as a trading nation. And our Prime Minister has set out her ambition for the UK to become a global champion for free trade. Now this means that we’ll need to seek out trading arrangements with new and existing partners, both regionally and bilaterally, and we’ll need to make the most of every opportunity to increase bilateral trade.

And Latin America offers fantastic opportunities for British companies. It is one of the world’s biggest global markets, representing 7% of world GDP. There are attractive export opportunities in a wide range of sectors - Oil and Gas, Mining, Financial Services, Tourism. That names a few but there are many more. I spoke at an event just last week encouraging British companies to seek opportunities in Colombian oil and gas, for instance. And many British companies have already had great success in the region - Lloyds, Jaguar Land Rover, and Anglo-American are some examples. 58 of the FTSE 100 companies are doing business there. But, actually, only 1.4% of UK exports reach Latin America. We need more UK companies to be doing business there. And we need a wider range of sectors doing business in the region.

These are innovation-hungry markets: in Chile, over 65% of the population owns a smart phone; in Argentina it’s 48%. In Brazil and Mexico, with populations of over 200 and 100 million, it’s 41% and 35% respectively.

So these are markets in which it is also increasingly easy to do business. With its stable economy and a legal and regulatory framework designed to facilitate investment, Mexico, for instance, is predicted to be a top 10 world economy within the next 15 to 30 years. And when I visited Argentina in September, I saw at first-hand President Macri’s efforts to reform the economy and actively promote Foreign Direct Investment. His efforts should be rightly praised.

Now these are also countries with ambitious plans for their future. There are widespread opportunities in infrastructure. Over the next four years, Brazil has $350 billion worth of investment planned. Chile has $28 billion earmarked for new projects by 2021. And Colombia is investing $54 billion in the sector over the next 3 years.

So if Latin America offers opportunity to British businesses, we also have a lot to offer the region in return. The UK has the expertise and experience to assist in the sort of large-scale infrastructure projects I’ve just mentioned. And we can offer world class services in structuring the finance to underpin these investments. We have many years’ experience of managing public-private partnerships.

We are also a world leader in responsible mining. Now British mining companies stand out for their skills across the spectrum, from exploration to construction, to operation and to optimisation. And they stand out for their use of innovation, especially in the development of new technologies that can revolutionise the industry. So I welcome the fact that Peru has become the first country in the Americas to become a compliant member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) – something I used to champion on a daily basis as Minister for International Development. This British initiative promotes common international standards for revenue transparency and accountability in the oil, gas and mining industries.

So as a former oil trader, I can safely say our expertise in other methods of extraction are also world-class too. We’ve got one of the world’s top offshore oil and gas industries, with expertise built up over six decades in the North Sea. And we can offer the whole range of activities – engineering, project management, exploration, production and for environmental purposes of course, also decommissioning – and there are plenty of opportunities for British suppliers to provide high value machinery to oil and gas companies in the region.

So as you begin you day of deliberations and discussions, can I just say that Latin America offers exciting investment opportunities for British companies. Many are already involved. But there is great scope to do a lot more. Your governments have ambitious plans to take economic development to the next level. And I would like to think we are well placed to support you. So today is your chance to explore those opportunities together. There has never been a better time to invest in Latin America. And, I hope, in a few months, I will be able to come back and announce new contracts worth billions of dollars to highlight the success of this event and your association. Thank you.

Published 10 November 2016