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Reading Room: Australian-Latin American Relations

11 Sep 2017
Reviewed by Dr Elisabeth Mayer

Two important recent developments, the retirement of the former main trading partner, the United States, from the embryonic Trans-Pacific Partnership and the beginning of an era defined as the Asia-Pacific Century, are indicative of a shift in global economic power.

This has removed the historical misconception which confined Latin America’s relevance to the northern hemisphere: Europe and the United States. The once strong bond between the northern power and its southern trade partners has all but been severed, giving way to new alliances and relationships.

The Australian-Latin American relationship has developed from a cordial and polite relationship of mutual disinterest to the establishment of the Council on Australia Latin America Relations (COALAR) in 2001. The establishment of COALAR was immediately followed by policy developments, free trade agreements and the expansion of diplomatic ties. Some of the key developments include the establishment of the Australian Trade Commission office in Bogotá (2011), the reopening of the Australian Embassy in Lima (2010)  and the opening of an Australian Embassy in Bogotá (2017). There has also been a perceptible increase in official Australian government visits to key Latin American countries, which is an indicator of Australia’s recognition of Latin America’s value in the context of a globalised world.

Today the Pacific-Australasia region’s growing economic influence and power manifests itself through social and economic global interconnectivity, as exemplified by the participation of Chile, Mexico, Peru, Brazil and Australia in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. China has emerged as Brazil’s main partner in resource trading and the 2012 World Economic Forum in Mexico sparked speculation that Asia would soon replace the US as Latin America’s first trading partner.

A prominent theme throughout the collection of papers brought together in Australian-Latin American Relations: New Links in a Changing Global Landscape critically addresses today’s value of global relations driven by neoliberal market globalism, measured essentially by its economic value while marginalising social values related to culture. Politics, economics and trade relations are reducing Australian-Latin American relations to mere mercantile ventures in search of pure financial return.

Acknowledging Australia’s growing fascination with popular Latin American culture and the existence of common challenges and well-established Latin American-Australian diasporas, the authors make a convincing case for renewed engagement across the Asia Pacific. However, a clear-cut answer to the question of how to build long-term, sustainable relationships remains elusive and a challenge that needs to be addressed broadly and in an interdisciplinary fashion.

Elizabeth Kath, (ed.), Australian-Latin American Relations: New Links in a Changing Global Landscape, New York City: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016

Elisabeth Mayer is the Director of the Australian National Centre for Latin American Studies (ANCLAS) at the Australian National University.