27/03/2015 06:51 GMT | Updated 26/05/2015 06:59 BST

Peterlee to Patagonia: EU-Latin American Cooperation Is Key to North East's Future


As Latin America continues to rise as one of the world's emerging economic powerhouses, this is a really exciting time for trade relations between the two regions. Reaching out to other markets for trade - like the BRICs - is made easier, not harder, by our EU membership. Leaving the EU would mean the UK is left in the waiting room whilst Latin American emerging economies and the EU negotiate how best to benefit from growing cooperation. It is in our interests to negotiate, too, and to reach out as part of a united force of 500 million EU citizens.

The North East is a prime beneficiary of growing and in some cases already strong business links with Latin America. Local businesses are increasingly offering their services and goods over on the other side of the Atlantic, from printing bank notes to securing power networks - creating jobs and providing a vital boost to the North East economy.

The UK has made strengthening Britain's relationships throughout Latin America a true priority in recent years - in particular in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. British companies are the fourth largest investor in Brazil, with rapidly improving export figures.

Companies like Amec Foster Wheeler for example, which works with forestry and mining businesses and has offices in Darlington, provides over 500 skilled jobs in the North East. It is my aim to see more local businesses look into exporting into Latin American markets in order to maximise the potential benefit to both regions of further cooperation. The North East Chamber of Commerce has been leading on a project with UK Trade and Investment and the European Regional Development Fund to help on this.

The value of working closely with our Latin American counterparts doesn't stop at trade. Part of my role as a Labour MEP is being a member of 'EuroLat' - a multilateral Parliamentary Assembly to promote greater cooperation between Latin America and Europe on issues including trade, democratic relations and tackling poverty and climate change. Last week, I was in Panama to speak about the importance of working together in order to eradicate poverty worldwide and in order to reach strong global commitments to replace the Millennium Development Goals and to deliver sustainable development beyond 2015. Promoting social development and environmental protection are key priorities for progressive politicians, academics and social actors on both sides of the Atlantic.

There are lots of ways that this cooperation is embedded in our region. Leading British universities are pioneering research, developing solutions and sharing knowledge to the benefit of the Latin American countries. A great North East example is the WATERLAT project. This largely EU-funded initiative, based at Newcastle University, brings together teams of social scientists and engineers to discover how political processes, community engagement and appropriate technologies can combine to deliver clean water and sanitation to local communities currently without adequate access.

With poverty levels still as high as 167 million in Latin America & 120 million in the EU, Euro-Latin American cooperation is crucial if we want to maximise our ability to improve lives. As in the UK, in Latin America the phenomenon of the 'working poor' is a major political issue; having a job is no guarantee against poverty. It is estimated that 20-30 per cent of the heads of low income households in Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru are informal workers. The prevalence of casual labour contracts really diminishes the ability of workers to bargain collectively with their employers, demand fair wages and plan for their and their family's future.

Important parallels can be made with the UK, where it is estimated that of the 13 million people living in poverty, more than half are from a working family. The TUC recently reported that almost a third of jobs in some areas of the North East are paying less than the living wage, with Berwick-upon-Tweed, Newcastle North and North West Durham topping the list of living wage blackspots.

I have built a career on fighting to improve labour rights for workers in the UK and beyond, and since being elected to the European Parliament I have made tackling global poverty a top priority.

We need an ambitious yet realistic agenda to end extreme poverty by 2030 as the UN has proposed, and it is my firm belief that increased cooperation between states on issues such as trade, human rights, security and climate change gives us the political clout in order to achieve this. It is only in this way we can ensure that the benefits of globalisation are felt all the way from the Peterlee to Patagonia.

Jude Kirton-Darling is Labour MEP for North East of England