Discussions on the challenges of Raw Materials Trade between Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean

The symposium "Challenges of Raw Materials Trade. Europe - Latin America, the Caribbean”, organised by the Institut des Amériques, the EU-LAC Foundation, the Agence française de développement (AFD) and the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs (MEAE), took place in the framework of the Latin America and Caribbean Week on May 25-26 in Paris.

Latin America and the Caribbean are among the areas where important deposits of raw materials are located. On the other side of the Atlantic, Europe has above all been one of the areas of consumption of raw materials, which has largely shaped the historical relations forged with Latin America and the Caribbean. In that context, the Symposium enabled a rich two-day exchange on trade relationships between both regions, with a focus on raw materials after several centuries of imbalance.

The common thread running through the event was the energy transition and the shift from a fuel-centric production model to one that favours energy converters and their storage devices, which require large quantities of raw materials. This context calls for a rethinking of intercontinental and interregional relationships, between Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, as new geopolitics of raw materials take shape: new spaces and players emerge, without sweeping away those already present. Europe has only recently rediscovered the stakes involved in raw materials, whereas in Latin America these are long-standing logics that have fuelled the imagination and generated social and environmental conflicts right up to the present day. The two regions, therefore, have different apprehensions and expectations of the situation.

Overall, the reflections of the event gravitated towards a few considerations: firstly, understanding that each player has its definition of the notion of transition and that all players are communicating sincerely to consider a “just” transition. The energy transition is largely driven by the European Union, which sets part of the rules and framework for trade, without questioning the extractivist model that continues to prevail in the raw materials-supplying countries.

Secondly, the question of the value chain, its redefinition and could be the subject of fruitful dialogue between European, Latin American and Caribbean countries, as a means of initiating a "just" transition. Understanding how the balance between production and costs at all stages of the value chain can help build industrialisation strategies on both sides of the Atlantic, while Europe is currently seeking to relocalise its mining and industrial production, while Latin American countries wish to move away from the role of mere suppliers and industrialise their economies.

Other questions and issues arose: the need to secure trade to guarantee the European socio-economic model and maintain trade that supports development in Latin America, and the establishment of international standardisation norms to ensure good social and environmental practices on a global scale and at all levels concerned: inter-regional, infrastructural, local and operational.

The participants concluded that none of these regions is homogeneous, whether in Europe, Latin America or the Caribbean; and that a wide range of practices and actors engage in various strategies there. Moreover, the post-growth perspective is also a way of envisaging an exit from the extractivist model and limiting our need for raw materials. Finally, participants called on to question our relationship with nature, and to understand that it offers not only resources but also amenities that are to be protected.