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From 17 to 22 September 2017, Mark Menzies MP (Conservative), Chair of the Latin America APPG and newly appointed Trade Envoy to Chile, Colombia and Peru, led a BGIPU delegation to Peru. The other participants were former Latin America APPG Chair Graham Stuart MP (Conservative), former FCO Shadow Minister for Latin America Diana Johnson MP (Labour), former FCO Minister for Latin America Chris Bryant MP (Labour), the Honorary President of the Latin America APPG Baroness Hooper CMG (Conservative) and Lord Purvis of Tweed (Lib Dem). The group was accompanied by BGIPU staff Anja Richter.
As a backdrop to the visit, the Peruvian Government had just resigned hours before the delegation got on the plane to Lima, following a lost vote of no confidence forced by President Kuczynski after the opposition dominated Congress had threatened to oust another Education Minister. By the time the delegation had arrived, a new Prime Minister – former Vice-President Mercedes Aroaz - and Cabinet had already been appointed, and lucky for the delegation most of the key Ministers had been re-appointed, meaning little disruption for the programme. Upon their arrival in Lima on Sunday evening, the delegation was welcomed by Her Majesty’s Ambassador (HMA), Anwar Choudhury, who had just seen off the Princess Royal following a week-long visit to Peru.
The programme started on Monday with a comprehensive briefing by HMA and embassy staff. The group was briefed on the workings of the Peruvian Congress and naturally engaged in a wide-ranging discussion on the political crisis impacting on both the Government and Congress. The major focus of the briefing however was on the UK’s developing trade relationship with Peru and its fellow Pacific Alliance nations.
The section heads for International Trade and Prosperity outlined the key economic opportunities that exist between Peru and the UK: mining, infrastructure and a government-to-government deal for the Pan American Games hosted by Peru in 2019, which has an estimated value of £600 million. The infrastructure opportunities include reconstruction from the serious flooding that Peru had suffered in the north of the country in recent months. These commercial opportunities were to be the focus of a visit from Trade Minister Greg Hand in the days following our departure from Peru. The UK’s National Crime Agency then provided the delegation with a confidential briefing on the support that the UK is giving to Peru in its counter-narcotics efforts. This is a key issue as Peru is now thought to be the largest producer of cocaine in the world, and most of the cocaine seized in the UK has been traced to Peru.
With lots of food for thought, the delegation then went to the Foreign Ministry for lunch, where they were hosted by Vice Minister Néstor Popolizio Bardales in the impressive historic building of the Cancilleria. As luck would have it, Foreign Minister Ricardo Luna, who was supposed to be at the United Nations accompanying President Kuczynski to the General Assembly in New York, was able to join the delegation for lunch as he had to stay in Lima due to the political crisis. The delegation very much appreciated his valuable insights into regional issues, esp. Venezuela, and Luna stressed his appreciation of the UK’s support for Peru’s application for membership of the OECD.
After lunch, the delegation had further meetings with government ministers, including with the Interior Minister Carlos Basombrio, which focused on bilateral cooperation in the fight against drug-trafficking and organised crime, and a detailed meeting with the Trade and Tourism Minister, Eduardo Kupper. Mr Kupper reiterated the opportunities open to UK companies for infrastructure development and highlighted the need to build a new airport at Cusco, servicing the ever increasing tourist traffic to Machu Picchu. The minister also raised the need for the UK to simplify the visa application process for Peruvians. The day concluded with a well-attended reception hosted by HMA at his residence, which many members of the Peruvian Congress attended. Carlos Bruce, President of the Congressional Economy Committee and Minister for Housing, gave a keynote speech.
The delegation started the second day with a visit to Congress where they participated in a session of the Social Inclusion and Disabilities Permanent Committee, met with the UK-Peru Congressional Friendship League, and were hosted for lunch by the Speaker of Congress, Mr Luis Galarreta, from the Popular Force Party. The lunch was also attended by other high-ranking Members of Congress, including two former Speakers. The delegation also participated in the launch of a book on parliamentary procedures in Pacific Alliance countries, supported by the British Embassy in Lima. In the afternoon the delegation met with the Minister for Women and Vulnerable People Affairs to discuss issues such as forced sterilisation during the 1990s and domestic abuse. Discussions on these and on related challenges continued during a dinner with Human Rights NGOs, where the main focus was on the efforts being made to combat child sexual exploitation and the fight against corruption.
The delegation returned to Congress on Wednesday for a tour of the historic building and enjoyed a meeting with a member of Congress from the Cusco region, who highlighted his work as a regional representative and gave the delegation an overview of the challenges his region faces before the group went to Cusco to see for themselves. A working lunch hosted the President of the UK-Peru Friendship League at the beautiful Larco Museum completed the time in Lima.
At 3,399 m above sea-level, the visit to Peru continued in Cusco on Thursday morning, with a meeting with the Regional Governor Edwin Licona. The country had recently seen widespread teacher strikes that started in the Cusco region and disrupted infrastructure and even access to Machu Picchu, Peru’s main tourism destination, so the discussion focussed mainly on education. The meeting was also attended by a group of young people who had travelled for 15 hours to ask the Governor for improvements to be made to their school buildings.
The delegation explored how the UK could help improve the teaching of English through the British Council and HMA highlighted how British companies could provide solar panels and enhanced mobile connectivity to support schools in isolated communities. The Governor reiterated the importance of tourism to the regional economy and opportunities for UK companies in this sector, as well as in the construction of the new airport. The rest of the day was spent in the Sacred Valley, where the delegation stayed at the Hacienda Sarapampa farm and learned about agriculture in the region and the local specialty Giant Corn, which has recently started to pop up as an exotic snack on shelves in UK supermarkets.
On their last day, the delegation met with the local Ombudsman’s Office to deepen their understanding about human rights issues and social conflict, and visited the local Chamber of Commerce branch where they heard from Rosa Primo, the first female head of the Chamber, about further opportunities for UK companies. The day was rounded up by a visit to the Santa Rosa Public School, where the delegation participated briefly in a maths class and was welcomed by over a thousand students. Both Mark Menzies and Chris Bryant were invited to address them, and Chris used the opportunity to give a motivational speech in fluent Spanish, to the delight of the audience. In very good spirits the delegation left the school to commence their long journey back to London, where they arrived on Saturday afternoon.
As leader of the delegation, I believe that our visit was successful in achieving its core objectives of building a positive relationship with a Pacific Alliance country and gaining a better understanding of its political system and challenges, giving us a number of lasting benefits. The UK’s relationship with Peru will become crucial in a post Brexit environment and it was therefore vital that Members of the UK Parliament began to build and improve links with our Peruvian counterparts. Peru has a unicameral system, with the connotation that Members of Congress carry a significant democratic responsibility. It is important that we understand the differences in our systems of government, while strengthening connections between our two parliaments to ensure that the Peruvian Congress feels part of the international parliamentary family. The delegation’s positive meetings with the Peruvian friendship group, the Speaker of Congress and a number of congressional committees went a considerable way to cementing understanding between us. Additional meetings with civil society representatives helped us understand the challenges Peru faces with regards to human rights and social conflict.
I would like to record my thanks to the team at the UK’s Embassy in Lima for supporting our visit so ably and to our excellent Ambassador, Anwar Choudhury, for accompanying the delegation to many of our meetings and for providing us with his expert guidance. Finally, I would particularly like to thank Anja Richter from the BGIPU for her superb overall organisation of the delegation’s visit and for her adept support throughout the week.