Falklands must not stop Britain ramping up LatAm ties: Hague

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The Falkland Islands dispute must not get in the way of Britain boosting its relations with Latin America, Foreign Secretary William Hague said Tuesday.

London has neglected its ties with the region for too long and Britain must relaunch its relations with Latin America as its importance on the global stage grows, Hague said.

He made clear there would be no change to Britain's sovereignty over the Falklands, the islands in the South Atlantic which are claimed by Argentina.

"It is our intention not to let differences come in the way of closer cooperation," Hague said in London in the annual Canning Lecture on British-South American relations.

"There will be no change to Britain's longstanding position on the Falkland Islands. But this should not be an obstacle to the positive relations we seek."

Hague, a senior figure in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government which came to power in May, said it was time to kick-start Britain's relations with Latin America and put them "on a modern footing".

"Britain has a track record of underestimating Latin America and neglecting its opportunities," he said.

"Over the last 20 years there has been a steady decline in UK interest."

He noted that by World War I, 50 percent of foreign investment in Latin America came from Britain, while British exports now make up barely one percent of all international exports to the region.

"We export over three times more to Ireland than we do to the whole of Latin America," he said, adding that other major European countries like Germany, France and Italy had "left us behind".

"Now is the time for Britain at last to think afresh about Latin America and the opportunities it presents for political cooperation and trade and investment."

Hague said he wanted Britain to be the first port of call for Latin American countries looking to expand abroad, and called for a climate change alliance between Europe and the region.

He also reaffirmed Britain's support for Brazil to be given a permanent seat on a reformed and expanded United Nations Security Council.

© 2010 AFP

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