The New Latin America Initiative

BERLIN (Own report) - With a Latin America-Caribbean Conference, the German Foreign Ministry is launching a new political offensive in the struggle for influence in Latin America. Germany and the EU's influence on the subcontinent has been stagnating, while China's importance is growing. The government hopes to counteract this development by helping German companies to increase their opportunities in Latin America - and this at a time when massive protest is being raised against German companies' activities, for example, in Brazil. The Brazilian judiciary has currently taken action against the Technical Control Board (TÜV) South, for its alleged complicity in a dam burst in January of this year, killing more than 250 people. Brazilian activists are also accusing the Bayer and BASF companies of selling agricultural poisons in their country, which are banned in the EU. Over the past decade, more than 2,000 people have died in Brazil from agrochemicals. Berlin is also envisaging the inclusion of Latin American countries into NATO structures.

Business Opportunities

Efforts to expand economic relations are the hallmark of the Latin America-Caribbean Conference organized in the Foreign Ministry today. In addition to some 20 foreign ministers, particularly business representatives are expected to attend - such as, on the German side, Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser and the Chairmen of the Latin America Committee and of the America Initiative of German Business. Participants also include the President of the Inter-American Development Bank as well as Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL). A new McKinsey study, "CEO agenda for Germany's economic cooperation with Latin America and the Caribbean" will be presented, to explore German companies' future business opportunities in the region and outline approaches for interested managers.

Growing Influence

For years, and in spite of repeated political initiatives, German business has not been able to notably progress in Latin America ( reported [1]) - with the exemption of Mexico. Because of its extremely close ties to the United States in the framework of NAFTA (or USMCA), Mexico is very important as a production site for the US market. German trade with Brazil, once Germany's major trading partner in Latin America, is declining. Even though investments are still generating high profits, their scale has not really increased. Trade with Argentina and Chile, the largest trading partners after Mexico and Brazil, is, for example, significantly less than with the Philippines and Lithuania. The overall volume of German trade with Latin America is roughly equivalent to that with Hungary (51 billion euros) and significantly lower than with ASEAN countries, particularly Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, whose growth promises far more attractive opportunities in the future.

A Certificate of Convenience

While the ministry of foreign affairs is seeking to increase the opportunities for German companies to enhance their profits in Latin America, German companies' activities are confronting a growing amount of protest. Just recently, for example, the activities of the TÜV (Technical Control Board) South in Brazil attracted public attention. In September 2018, the enterprise had issued, what is suspected to have been a certificate of convenience to the Brazilian Vale mine operating company for a dam that burst on January 25, killing presumably more than 250 people.[2] The Brazilian judiciary has now frozen millions on the TÜV South's accounts and suspended the company's activities in the country.[3] Vale, one of the world's three largest mining companies, is Germany's main supplier of iron ore. Germany obtains more than half of its iron ore from Brazil.

German Agricultural Poison

Protests are also being raised against German companies supplying Brazil's agricultural industry – the second branch, alongside mining, with extensive exports to Germany. One of the exported products is Soya. For years, activists in Brazil have been defending themselves energetically against agricultural poison, which Bayer and BASF are selling to Brazilian agricultural groups. The products are considered extremely hazardous to the health. According to Alan Tygel of the "Campanha Permanente contra Agrotóxicos e Pela Vida" (Permanent Campaign against Agrotoxins and for Life) the number of Brazilians, poisoned by agrochemicals has gone from 2,726 in 2007 to approx. 7,200 in 2017. During the same period, 2,185 have even died from agrotoxins.[4] Tygel points out that Bayer is doing business with 12 agrotoxins that, because of their toxicity are not allowed to be used within the EU. BASF sells even 45 products that use active ingredients banned within the EU.[5] The companies are benefiting from the election of Brazil's new ultra-right-wing President Jair Messias Bolsonaro, who won his election also with the help of the agro-industry. As the "Coordination against Bayer Dangers," an NGO in Leverkusen, points out, within the first 100 days of his government, Bolsonaro has granted the release of 152 new agrotoxins for sale within the country.[6]


While Berlin is trying to expand its business relations with Latin America, the debate about NATO's becoming more anchored on the sub-continent persists. In May 2017, the Alliance had declared Columbia its first Latin American "Global Partner."[7] This status entails closer NATO cooperation, particularly in maneuvers and training programs, to enhance so-called interoperability. The Columbian armed forces, thereby, will be put in a position to participate in NATO's wars at anytime. Already in 2015, the Columbian Navy had participated in NATO's "Ocean Shield," operation, to combat piracy at the Horn of Africa. Currently, the structural inclusion of other Latin American countries into the western war alliance is being discussed. US President Donald Trump has suggested Brazil. According to a strategy paper, the CDU/CSU group in the German parliament supports "an expansion of NATO's Latin American partnerships."[8] This would not only help supplement troop levels for future military missions, but the military cooperation would also help limit China's influence in Latin America.

Arms Exports

Last, but not least, Latin American countries' structural ties to NATO would considerably broaden the market for Germany's arms industry on the subcontinent. Germany's Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas (SPD) and his Brazilian counterpart, Ernesto Araújo announced in a "Common Declaration," April 30 that they would engage in a "bilateral strategic dialog" on "issues of defense."[9] Otherwise, Maas and Araújo welcomed the fact that Brasilia has chosen Germany's ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) in cooperation with Brazil's Embaer as suppliers for their four new frigates. The ships are due to be delivered between 2024 and 2028 and will cost around €1.4 billion. The contract is not only considered economically but also politically advantageous. Since Bolsonaro's election victory, the military has been in power in Brazil. ( reported.[10])


[1] See also Maas and Human Rights.

[2] See also Tödliches Sicherheitszertifikat.

[3] Marcos de Moura e Souza: Justiça suspende atividades da Tuv Süd no Brasil e bloqueia R$ 19 mi. 15.05.2019.

[4] "Gemeinde aus der Luft mit Glyphosat angegriffen": Rede von Alan Tygel. 26.04.2019.

[5] "Ihre Doppelmoral muss enden!" Rede von Alan Tygel. 03.05.2019.

[6] Das fatale Treiben von Bayer & Co. gehört auf die Agenda! Coordination gegen Bayer-Gefahren, Presse-Information vom 24.05.2019.

[7] "Global Partners" der NATO sind neben Australien, Neuseeland, Japan und Südkorea inzwischen auch die Mongolei, Afghanistan, Pakistan und der Irak.

[8] Vision 2030 - Eine Partnerschaft für die Zukunft. Lateinamerika-Karibik-Strategie der CDU/CSU-Fraktion im Deutschen Bundestag. Beschluss vom 14. Mai 2019.

[9] Gemeinsame Erklärung Deutschland-Brasilien. 30.04.2019.

[10] See also "Now, Bets are on Brazil".