On December 8th-9th Latin American countries, Spain, and Portugal celebrated the 24th Ibero-American Summit in Veracruz in Mexico. The summit produced a number of bilateral agreements on the topics of education, innovation, culture and youth, in line with its proclaimed aim to boost its relevance for Ibero-American citizens by tackling concrete issues affecting the latter. The challenge for the summit will increasingly be maintaining its relevance amid a proliferation of regional and sub-regional forums and institutions in Latin America.
The event has been held annually since 1991 and has historically been attended by the heads of state of all the nations of the Iberian Peninsula, and Latin America and the Caribbean, to forge stronger political and economic ties. However, interest in the summit has waned in recent years.
This year 16 of the expected 22 leaders attended, with the presidents of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela sending delegations in their place, indicating the increasing disengagement of left-leaning regimes in the region from this forum. Nonetheless, this was higher than the 11 who attended last year's summit in Panama, and the highest rate of participation since 2005. The summit this year was also the first presided over by the new Spanish king, Felipe VI, and the new Ibero-American secretary-general, Rebeca Grynspan.
Education and innovation as main topics
In a region increasingly divided by political and economic ideology, the conference steered clear of such topics, with an emphasis on topics such as education, innovation and culture. Among these, the summit agreed to: student exchanges of 200,000 students between Latin America and Iberia over the next five years; programmes to improve literacy; programmes to broaden intercultural exchange, particularly through digital media; science and technology transfers; programmes aimed at improving youth participation in civil society; and facilitated movement of talent between the regions. In a press statement, Spain's prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, also said that Spain and Portugal would continue to be "the greatest advocates" for Latin America within the EU.
Nonetheless, while the final declaration promised to strengthen the summit-with new proposals such as decentralising the Ibero-American secretariat, with a stronger positioning of the three offices in Latin America, and strengthening and integrating Ibero-American institutions such as the Ibero-American Social Security Organisation, the Ibero-American Youth Organisation and the International Ibero-American Judicial Network-members also agreed to hold the next summit in 2016 in Colombia rather than next year, probably in an acknowledgment that issues of bilateral concern are increasingly rare.
The above supports The Economist Intelligence Unit's view the EU (and Spain and Portugal) will not be among Latin America's areas of focus in 2015-19, compared with more dynamic non-traditional markets such as Asia and, to a lesser extent, Africa and the Middle-East. This comes amid weak growth prospects in the medium term and the well-established nature of bilateral relations.