The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee this month published the conclusions of its enquiry into how the UK can ensure its policy towards South America is targeted more effectively. The enquiry involved written submissions by civil society organisations on a number of topics, including PSG’s own submission on the main problems associated with extractive industries in Peru and their implications for human rights. The report is based largely on oral evidence arising from six sessions held between January and July 2019.

Entitled “Global Britain and South America”, the report addresses what the committee considered to be the most prominent topics arising and their impact on the UK’s relations with the region, recognising that South America offers untapped potential to “develop UK influence and promote mutual prosperity, security and stability” (summary para). Such topics include regional politics and security, democracy and the rule of law, human rights, and trade and investment. The report sets out recommendations on priorities in the use of UK resources in the region.

Much attention is devoted to the situation in Venezuela and its ripple effects on neighbouring countries, as well as to the peace process in Colombia. The latter raises major questions about human rights and the predicament facing human rights defenders in the region more generally. The report also acknowledges the effects of corruption on democratic institutions and the increasing threats to security from organised crime. It also makes passing mention of the devastating effects of the Amazon fires.

Mentions of Peru are few and far between, but the report highlights that Britain is not “maximis[ing] existing opportunities” (para 20) and should “strengthen significantly the UK’s absolute and relative trade with the region over the next 5 years” (para 21). To date, the UK has signed two trade continuity agreements, one of which is with Peru, Colombia and Ecuador. These are designed to replicate existing EU trade agreements.

The report mentions some of the negative consequences of extractive industries, including the prevalence of socio-environmental conflicts due to poor consultation and bad practice leading to detrimental environmental and health impacts. Anglo American is quoted, citing the Quellaveco dialogue table as a positive example. It mentions the company’s role in devising procedures to minimise environmental damage.

On human rights, the report centres mostly on Colombia, praising the role of the UK Embassy in supporting human rights and human rights defenders, as well as in funding projects to reduce social violence. The committee recommends the FCO to focus its human rights work in South America “upon protection of human rights defenders in the region including the implementation of the recently launched ‘UK Support to Human Rights Defenders’ guidelines” (para 10).

The report supports the inclusion of human rights stipulations in rolled-over trade agreements and the need to apply best practice in human rights by applying the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.

It stresses the need to take advantage of opportunities to increase trade and investment in the region, with South America currently accounting for only 1% of the UK’s global imports and exports.