Latin America and Caribbean conference kicks off in Berlin

More than 20 foreign ministers from Latin America and the Caribbean are in Berlin, albeit without Venezuela.

Heiko Maas

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is hosting more than 20 of his counterparts in the German capital on Tuesday. The event kicks off Germany's Latin America and Caribbean initiative, which was introduced by Maas in February.

Germany has been taking steps in recent months to deepen ties with Latin American countries, emphasizing Germany's "shared values" with the region.

The agenda at Tuesday's conference is expected to include talks on improving trade and business, cooperation on developing stronger legal institutions, tacking climate change issues, along with expert panels covering science and technology.

"Latin America is one of the world's most strongly democratic regions," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "We are seizing the initiative to reinvigorate and inject fresh impetus into our relations."

"We want to join forces on the world stage in our efforts to promote democracy, human rights and fair rules. We want to help expand our foundation of shared values."

Roughly 1,000 guests are expected at the conference, including Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser, who will discuss business relations, and the UN human rights commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, who will discuss women's rights.

Focus on women's rights

A new women's network called "Unidas" will be officially founded at the conference. The network, which is supported by the German Foreign Ministry in cooperation with the UN, will emphasize equal opportunity for women in Latin American and Caribbean countries. The network will foster preventative measures and increase dialogue on women's rights issues in political and civil society spheres in Latin American countries.

"Participation, equal opportunities and equal rights are at the heart of democratic societies. There can be no justice without equality," said the Foreign Ministry in a statement.

Fourteen of the 25 countries around the world with the highest murder rates for women are located in Latin America, according to UN figures.

Improving business ties in Latin America

German businesses like Siemens and Volkswagen have been active for decades in Central and South America, although trade ties with the region are not impressive.

Imports and exports between Germany and Mexico totaled around €21.7 billion ($24.2 billion) in 2018, according to Germany's Federal Statistical Office. That puts Mexico 24th overall, behind far smaller countries like Norway, Slovakia and Ireland.

Germany's next-largest Latin American trade partner is Brazil, with a 2018 trade total of €16.8 billion ($18.7 billion) — sandwiched between South Africa and Portugal in 29th place.

Germany also wants to increase its investment in Latin American countries to counter China's heavy in investment in the region. According to the China-Lusophone brief, a Brazilian economic monitoring website, Chinese investment in Brazil across 251 projects were announced or confirmed from 2003 to 2017, with a total worth of more than $123 billion (€110 billion).

Part of the Foreign Ministry's economic strategy for Latin America is to streamline cooperation with government institutions and reduce bureaucratic hurdles, along with building upon existing economic cooperation.

For example, Germany's largest carmaker, Volkswagen, operates four factories Brazil, According to Volkswagen, half of its new passenger car sales were in Brazil, and the company a 15% take of the Brazilian car market in 2018.

Venezuela notably absent

The conference comes amid the political crisis in Venezuela, meaning that the country's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza was not on the guest list.

Venezuela is still headed by embattled President Nicolas Maduro but Germany has sided with opposition leader Juan Guaido during the country's political unrest.

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