The Australian Institute of International Affairs Queensland was honoured recently to interview His Excellency Arturo Cabrera Hidalgo, Ecuador’s Ambassador to Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji, pictured. Ecuador is located on the Western coast of South America, bordered by Peru, Colombia, and the Pacific Ocean. As a country located on South America’s Pacific rim, it is well positioned to form trade and diplomatic links with countries across the Pacific and is interested in the security of the region. During the interview, the Ambassador highlighted the post-pandemic moment as an opportunity to expand the Ecuador-Australia relationship in areas of shared interest such as environmental security. Given the challenges the international community is currently facing, a focus on mutual cooperation will be vital in maintaining the prosperity of the Pacific region.
Australia’s diplomatic relationship with Ecuador has historically been centred on facilitating trade and investment in mining. Given Australia’s expertise in mining exploration, technology and resource management, Ecuador’s growing mining sector represents a promising investment destination. However, while the Ambassador acknowledged the importance of such connections, he elaborated on recent efforts to expand relations into new areas. Last year for example, Australia and Ecuador engaged in bilateral political consultations in Canberra at the “highest possible level,” and created a special Council for Trade and Investment – efforts which the Ambassador characterised as a first step towards a general free trade agreement. Moreover, roadmaps are currently being negotiated for addressing areas such as cybersecurity, biosecurity, and environmental protection – representing a significant expansion of the Ecuador-Australia relationship.
In light of the deepening ties between the two nations, the Ambassador foresees opportunities to expand collaboration in shared areas of concern, especially relating to environmental sustainability. Ecuador and Australia have both demonstrated a strong interest in contributing to international efforts for environmental protection. In March 2022, Ecuador, and Australia signed the UNEA 5.2 resolution to end plastic pollution which commits states to developing a legally binding international treaty to reduce plastic pollution by 2024. Currently, Ecuador is one of the countries chairing the Intergovernmental Negotiation Committee tasked with drafting this agreement. Moreover, both Australia and Ecuador have joined The High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution which aims to ensure the agreement is effectively executed by developing policies to eliminate plastic pollution by 2040.
This shared participation in broad multilateral endeavours reflects positively on the potential for further cooperation bilaterally and regionally. As countries across Latin-America and the Pacific commit to clean energy transitions, there will arise new opportunities to forge business and investment relationships. The Ambassador articulated his vision of Ecuador as, “a hub for companies from Australia and New Zealand in the area of renewable energy”. Equally important will be institutional connections designed to facilitate research into areas of shared concern with the Ambassador citing Australia specifically as, “a partner for scientific research in areas related to environmental protection, protection of the oceans, and marine protected areas.”
A focus on cooperation and negotiation is particularly important in a divided international community. The second half of the interview saw discussion shift to the challenges facing international diplomacy. The Ambassador spoke of a world that “hasn’t been so divided since the Second World War”. He cautioned against a growing tendency to view the humanitarian crises stemming from war and the displacement of refugees as “regular news,” and urged for international cooperation in addressing conflicts. In an interconnected world there needs to be greater bilateral and multilateral action in addressing threats that transcend borders including international organised crime, cybercrime, international health crises, and the environmental destruction of the planet.
The overall impression from the interview was a vision for Ecuadorian-Australian relations built on collaboration in addressing existential issues, such as environmental protection, alongside enhanced trade ties. To achieve this, Australia should continue to invest in its diplomatic service. Effective collaboration between countries is ultimately founded on diplomatic ties and the people who forge them. This sense was encapsulated by the Ambassador’s closing remarks in which he commented on what makes a successful diplomat: “You need to have in this career a commitment to work for people, to work for countries, and to realise that what you are doing, one way or another, should touch the life of someone in a positive way.”