Latin America and the Caribbean(LAC) countries have unfailingly supported the Republic of Korea on the international stage as a long-standing ally since the Cold War. When the government of the ROK was established in 1948, the majority of LAC recognized it as the only legitimate government on the Korean peninsula. In 1950, Colombia participated in the Korean War, while Mexico and many other LAC countries sent medicine and aid. Then, in October 1959, Brazil became the first LAC country to establish diplomatic relations with the ROK. Thereafter, the ROK expanded diplomatic relations with other LAC countries which resulted in diplomatic ties with the 32 countries of LAC, excluding Cuba.
In the 1990s, relations between the ROK and LAC developed rapidly. In 1991, former President Roh Tae-woo made the first official visit to Mexico and in September 1996, former President Kim Young-sam visited five Latin American countries, namely Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Peru. These visits strengthened the basis for cooperation between the ROK and LAC in fields such as politics, diplomacy, and economy. The economic and trade relations also expanded in the 1990s. Thanks to its status as a forward base for indirect exports to North America and Europe, LAC emerged as a favored region for investment, in which many Korean companies rushed to launch their businesses.
As we entered 21st century, diplomatic relations and cooperation in diverse fields further strengthened, including people-to-people and cultural exchanges between the ROK and LAC. With the official visit of former President Roh Moo-hyun to Argentina, Brazil, and Peru in November 2004, relations between the two sides evolved from politically friendly ties to practical cooperation in the areas of economy, trade, and natural resources. Furthermore, former President Lee Myung-bak held 27 bilateral summits with leaders of 17 LAC countries during his term in office from 2008 to 2012. Former President Park Geun-hye further improved the relationship between the ROK and Latin American countries through her visits to Colombia, Peru, Chile and Brazil in 2015, and an official visit to Mexico in 2016.
In 2018, President Moon Jae-in increased diplomatic engagement with LAC in line with his strategy to diversify diplomacy. President Moon met with leaders of Chile and Argentina on the occasion of the United Nations General Assembly and G20 summit. The Prime Minister also paid a visit to the Dominican Republic and Brazil, making diplomatic efforts to strengthen cooperative ties with LAC region.
The two regions have put forth to strengthen economic cooperation as well, through the ROK’s active pursuit of the signing of FTAs with LAC. The LAC region represents a vast market worth 5.6 trillion US dollars (based on 2017 estimates) as well as a strategic point for energy, mining, and food resources. The ROK-Chile FTA signed in February 2003 is viewed as a successful negotiation that has quadrupled the trade volume from 1.8 billion US dollars to 7.3 billion US dollars in six years. Encouraged by such momentum, the ROK signed the FTA with Peru and Columbia which went into effect in August 2011 and July 2016 respectively.
The ROK government also signed a FTA with five Central American countries(Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras) in March 2017, which was ratified in four Central American countries(Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras) and is under the ratification process in the Korean National Assembly. In addition, the ROK government officially announced the resumption of negotiations for the trade agreement between the ROK and MERCOSUR(composed of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay) and had two rounds of talks so far in order to accelerate the cooperation in the areas of economy and trade.