Oil-rich Venezuela scored a victory Saturday when it persuaded European delegates at a 60-nation summit to back down on a key point in the gathering's final document, dropping a phrase that would have committed leaders to base their economic regulations on "international commitments and obligations."
European and Latin American leaders at the summit also agreed in the document to reduce trade barriers and risks for foreign investment, push for stronger limits on greenhouse gases and support a United Nations effort to re-think the war on drugs.
In dropping the phrasing that Venezuela objected to, the Europeans agreed to the South American country'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.
"We emphasize the importance of working together to promote investments that support sustainable and sound use of natural resources, environmental care, and economic and social development, and to maintain a favorable investment climate, with legal certainty and respect of national and international law," the revised clause now says.
"In this regard, we stress the importance of a stable and transparent regulatory framework that provides certainty to investors, while recognizing the sovereign right of States to regulate."
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."
Diplomats told the AP that foreign ministers have 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 participated.
The final draft of the EU-CELAC summit says the countries will fight together to bring down trade barriers and protectionism.
"We reiterate our commitment to avoid protectionism in all its forms," it says. "We remain determined to favor an open and non-discriminatory, rules-based multilateral trade system and fully respect its disciplines, and we recognize its contribution in promoting the recovery from the economic crisis."
The document also said countries remain concerned about the economic crisis and that recovery remains very slow. "To combat it, they agreed to continue working together towards a new international financial architecture, as agreed in the 2010 Madrid Summit.
Mounting on the crisis in the old continent, 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.
A European Union delegate told the AP that they agreed on Saturday to put in Venezuela's phrasing despite the setbacks suffered by their companies and investors.
"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," Bolivian Communications Minister Amanda Davila told the AP. "It's right to look after its economic interests."
Honduran lawmaker Gloria Oqueli, co-president of the Euro-Lat assembly that includes more than 100 lawmakers from both regions, said, "European businesses often stress that countries should provide them with legal certainty, and we agree with this, but the thing is that many times these treaties, agreements and negotiations with multinational corporations simply exclude the inhabitants of Latin America."
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."
After meeting with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez told reporters at the summit that Mercosur will make an offer to the EU at year's end to strike a deal on a free trade agreement. She said that the deal must not harm the South American economic bloc.
Associated Press writers Eva Vergara in Santiago and Ian James in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.