It is my very great honour to be here tonight as you celebrate and reflect on the remarkable work of Canning House and everything it has achieved over the last 80 years and as you, and we, look to the future.
Can I begin by saying a big “thank you” to Canning House – particularly to Jeremy Browne and his team – for bringing us together this evening. And, on this 80th anniversary celebration, I know that everyone will want to join me in saying “well done”.
I know how much James Cleverly was looking forward to being here this evening, the more so after his time in Brazil, Chile and Colombia in May. I will only say that one constant in politics is that circumstances change!
And David Cameron has asked me to say that he is sorry that he is not able to come this evening.
In my 13 months as the Minister for Latin America, I have travelled to the region 16 times and visited 25 countries in the Americas. Everything that I have done and seen has further reinforced my views not only about the region’s extraordinary people and potential, but about the importance to us here, in the UK, of these relationships, as we look to the future.
It is two hundred years since British veterans volunteered to help the people of Latin America in their struggles for independence.
The great George Canning, after whom Canning House is named, was instrumental in shaping our diplomatic recognition and economic support to the young nations that emerged.
Our early relationships were characterised by the pioneering spirit of those involved. Knowing how much our relationships with almost all the countries of Latin America matter today, we need that same pioneering spirit, as much now as then.
In this new and turbulent era of geopolitical competition, we in the UK need to keep close to our old friends and offer them the partnership they need to prosper.
The threats and challenges are very real.
“Russia Today”, “Sputnik” and their ilk are expanding their Spanish-language content and their reach.
China is keen to exploit its economic heft to push values quite different from those we in the UK, Europe and Latin America all share.
But I have no doubt that, through working together, our shared values will prevail, precisely because the values and freedoms we espouse are decent and principled. They are ones that people everywhere deserve.
This Government is determined to be constant in our offer of partnership with Latin America.
We are committed to constantly renewing it, as a partnership founded on shared values of democracy, human rights, and self-determination; and on mutual interest and trust.
Our ambition needs to be propelled by a shared desire to act, help build capacity and genuinely make a difference.
Of course, this is easy to say but more difficult to deliver.
I am proud how much we have achieved since our former Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, spoke in Chile in May this year and outlined the UK’s ambition for future relations with the region.
In the United Nations, we have voted together from positions of principle on resolutions that go to the heart of some of the biggest challenges in the world today.
I was proud of the UK’s work in the Security Council on a resolution expanding the mandate of the Colombia Verification Mission, whose work is so important to support the peace process there.
And last month, we signed a renewed partnership agreement with Chile on Antarctica, a region of the world where we need international cooperation to continue.
We have signed a “Partnership on Green and Inclusive Growth” with Brazil and held bilateral trade dialogues with Chile, Colombia and Peru. We had ministers from six Central American countries in London last month for the first Ministerial Council of the UK-Central America trade agreement. We have also made progress with the political and cooperation pillars of our Association Agreement with them.
The UK’s joining CPTPP sets the stage for deeper trade and investment ties with several Latin American partners.
The expert technical assistance we have provided has helped Panama achieve its goal of getting off the Financial Action Task Force’s grey-list.
We are working with the Lithium Triangle countries – Argentina, Chile and Bolivia. Recognising the vital importance of Latin America’s critical minerals for the global transition to a green economy.
On protecting the environment, Latin American countries will be big beneficiaries from the UK’s $2 billion contribution, announced in September by the Prime Minister, to the Green Climate Fund, our largest single climate funding commitment.
Helped by the British Council, we have also been busy on the education front. Learning English is not just a rich source of goodwill, it opens doors for millions to career opportunities in science and technology.
The Youth Mobility Scheme we have agreed with Uruguay will allow young Uruguayans to spend two years in the UK. This will further strengthen ‘people to people’ links that are so vital to developing our partnerships.
Yesterday, voters in Argentina chose their new President – my congratulations to President-elect Milei. He will take office at what is an exciting, and a challenging, time.
Ours is an old and close friendship, but it has been bruised in recent years.
As all of you know, we will be constant in our support for the Falkland Islanders, in our support of their freedoms and their rights, particularly that right of self-determination.
With Javier Milei’s election we have an opportunity to take forward our partnership and to work together on the global challenges we both face.
There is so much here for us to take pride in tonight.
But we will all want to see more in the year and years ahead.
In particular, we want to see Latin America have a stronger voice within the international order.
Two centuries after Canning foresaw these young nations’ rising influence in the world, we have a part to play in making sure their voices are heard.
The UK has therefore made absolutely clear our support for Brazil sitting as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. We are looking forward to the coming year, with Brazil chairing the G20 from next month. We’re also looking forward to 2025, as Belém hosts COP30: a very appropriate ‘first’ for a city in the Amazon region.
Together we need to make progress in the reform of “international financial institutions” and international tax.
You will all have seen that we are working hard to broaden the global debate on AI, making sure the regulation of this incredible technology reflects our value and the views countries and regions around the world.
As we support Latin America’s voice on the world stage, we are working too to support all Latin Americans to have a voice at home.
Women’s and girls’ rights everywhere matter to us. Women’s voices in much of Latin America are already strong. I am encouraged by the record numbers of women MPs across Latin American legislatures.
We are working to see the violation of women’s and girls’ rights addressed, including through our recent contribution to the Organisation of American States programme tackling sexual violence against migrant women and girls.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I conclude where I began. Latin America and the UK have been friends for 200 years. Our friendship matters, and it needs to continue to matter as we look at the geopolitical landscape, it matters more than ever.