Every official speech about the EU and Latin America should start by paying tribute to the excellent relationship. Indeed, this reflects the current situation and, what is more important, a relationship that has been continuously improving over the years. But we should not tempt us to be satisfied with what has already been achieved.
Only those who deal regularly with Latin America know how versatile this continent is. But this fact only seems clear to those who are already involved. As a consequence, chances are missed by companies of all sizes.
The states of Latin America have learned from the major crises of the past decades. This leaves most of them now in a better position than those countries that once taught them i.e. European countries. They benefit from the high commodity prices, as well as the formation of a well-funded and consuming middle class. Thus these markets offer opportunities for virtually every kind of product: from consumer goods to capital goods, financial products and various services.
In particular the raw material sector of these countries offers tremendous opportunities to European high-tech countries to invest. The mining industry in Latin America is one of the largest in the world. In addition to large corporations, hundreds of small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) have been successfully doing business in this branch for many years. But only few of the so-called "hidden champions" ―highly specialized manufacturers that are market leaders in the globalized world― take the step beyond a simple representation or logistics office. They do not move parts of their production to the consumer countries or drive forward technology developments with local partners.
What we need is strategic cooperation that covers the whole value chain: from exploration, mining, processing, and transport to mine closure and environmental obligations. Simultaneously, highly productive, resource-efficient technologies have to be ensured, know-how transferred and local actors involved closely in the search for new solutions. It is also important to find short-term models that create stronger attachments to the raw material suppliers through strategic partnerships, to ensure access to necessary material for high-tech manufacturers.
A very different but equally important sphere of action is education. Traditionally, Latin America was oriented towards Europe due to the history of immigration, but today, Europe has lost its vanguard role when it comes to future issues. Students and scientists first look towards the United States, more and more to Asia, and decreasingly to Europe.
It is up to us, the countries of Europe, to show the young generations of Latin America how innovative the economy and society of the “Old Continent” are. Germany especially has a lot to offer, from its system of dual vocational education and training to its powerful research collaboration and model of globalized and innovative SMEs.
Europe must become more visible, offering role models for democracy, freedoms and the rule of law in which education is a factor of social integration and in which networks of companies, universities, public and private actors create an attractive environment for creativity, research and development. Therefore it has to look beyond its own burning issues and actively reach out to the Latin American countries.
Cornelia Sonnenberg is General Manager of the German-Chilean Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CAMCHAL) and member of the Global Council of DEinternational, the business center network of German Chambers worldwide.