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EU chief embarks on Latin America tour to boost ‘neglected’ ties

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By Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen starts a four-nation trip to Latin American on Monday to bolster political and trade ties that the European Union admits it has sometimes neglected.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the European Union has cast around for “like-minded” partners to provide other sources of trade and critical minerals required for its green transition and help reduce its reliance on China.

Von der Leyen will meet the presidents of Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Mexico on consecutive days. Her trip follows that of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz earlier this year and comes a week before Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva travels to Paris.

Brussels will also host more than 30 leaders from Latin American and the Caribbean at a summit on July 17-18, a springboard for its “new agenda” with the region unveiled last week.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the partnership had been sometimes “taken for granted, or even neglected”, and needed to be upgraded with “partners of choice”.

High on von der Leyen’s agenda will be the trade agreement struck in 2019 with the Mercosur bloc of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, but put on hold largely due to concerns over Amazon deforestation.

The EU is expecting a Mercosur response soon to its proposal to attach sustainability and climate change commitments to the deal.

Von der Leyen will also seek to push forward an update to the EU-Mexico trade pact which the two sides agreed in 2018.

Another focus will be the EU’s desire for partnerships on critical raw materials with a number of countries in the region. It has a trade agreement with Chile that could give EU companies greater access to the country’s lithium and copper.

A possible understanding with Argentina could also promote exploration of the Vaca Muerta shale oil and gas reserves by EU investors.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by David Holmes)

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