(AP) Venezuelan lobbying persuaded European delegates to back down on a key point at a 60-nation gathering on Saturday, dropping a phrase in the summit declaration that would have committed leaders to basing their economic regulations on international commitments and obligations.
The Europeans agreed to Venezuela's language emphasizing that each nation is free to regulate foreign investment according to its own economic and social development policies. The debate resolved one of the final hurdles to a document being prepared for the signatures of presidents and prime ministers on Sunday.
Venezuela's win came despite concerted European Union efforts to persuade their counterparts that clear, stable ground rules and legal certainty are key to sustainable development in the region, where EU High Representative Catherine Ashton said European businesses have currently invested 385 billion euros ($516 billion).
But with China providing a seemingly insatiable demand for copper and soy, Latin America has less to lose from delays, and Venezuela's intransigence was celebrated by some of its allies as a show of strength.
This isn't a victory. It's not the imposition of a concept. It's simply respect for diversity, said Venezuelan diplomat Rodolfo Sanz, who leads ALBA, a separate alliance of left-leaning Latin American nations. It's a sovereign right.
Europeans have suffered a series of setbacks in Latin America recently as the former colonies made unilateral moves to recover resources and protect their economies.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has nationalized a long list of foreign companies, sometimes triggering compensation disputes. Bolivia's Evo Morales nationalized several Spanish electricity distribution companies last year, and Argentina's Cristina Fernandez has refused to pay Grupo Repsol $10.5 billion for expropriating the Spanish company's stake in the YPF oil company.
European Union diplomats had wanted leaders to give foreign investors more confidence that they'll respect international agreements but an EU delegate told the AP that they finally agreed on Saturday to substitute in Venezuela's phrasing.
Venezuela was unhappy with the language, so they were able to come up with new language based on Venezuela's text. It has been agreed. The EU has accepted this, the EU delegate told AP on condition of anonymity given the closed-door nature of the talks.
Last year, Venezuela began its withdrawal from a World Bank-affiliated arbitration body, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes. A top government lawyer said at the time that Venezuela faced more than two dozen arbitration cases, many of them before the Washington-based body. Argentina, for its part, leads the world in the number of World Bank arbitration settlements that it has refused to pay.
Bolivia's delegation praised Venezuela for standing up to the Europeans. Venezuela is advocating for the sovereign right of counties, Bolivia Communications Minister Amanda Davila told the AP. It's right to look after its economic interests.
Diplomats told the AP that foreign ministers had agreed to nearly everything else in the final declaration of the summit, in which 33 Latin American and Caribbean governments and 10 European Union countries are participating.
A 13-page draft of the declaration, obtained by the AP, includes reducing trade barriers and risks for foreign investment, pushing for stronger limits on greenhouse gases and supporting a United Nations effort to re-think the war on drugs.
Aside from the document, European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht on Saturday urged Argentina and Brazil to reduce barriers to European imports and finally clinch a long-delayed free trade deal between the EU and the Mercosur trade group, which last year expanded to include Venezuela.
Mercosur includes some of our most important economic partners on this continent so it is no secret that Europe would like to have made more progress in these talks by now, De Gucht said. On the core issue of access to each other's markets we have still not gotten down to business.
EU High Representative Catherine Ashton said strengthening ties is key to growing the economies of Europe as well as of Latin America and the Caribbean, since European businesses have already invested more than 385 billion euros ($516 billion) in the region.
Bolivia, for one, is in no hurry, Davila said. When it comes to the rights of nations to determine their own economic policies, she said, President Morales considers that the CELAC Summit would have been better without the EU altogether.
Associated Press writers Eva Vergara in Santiago and Ian James in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.