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, and have recently emerged as the market where the ROK earns its second largest trade surplus. 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. Also in 1950, Colombia participated in the Korean War, while Mexico and many other LAC countries sent medicine and aid. Added to that, in October 1959, the 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 experienced swift progress. In 1991, former President Roh Tae-woo made the first official visit to Mexico. Furthermore, 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. Consequently, many Korean companies rushed to launch their businesses in the region.
In 2000, diplomatic relations and cooperation in diverse fields, including people-to-people and cultural exchanges between the ROK and LAC further strengthened with the official visit of former President Roh Moo-hyun to Argentina, Brazil, and Peru. Relations between the two sides evolved from politically friendly ties to practical cooperation in the areas of economy, trade, and natural resources. Former President Roh also made an official visit to Mexico and Costa Rica in September 2005 and Guatemala in July 2007 respectively.
In November 2008, President Lee Myung-bak visited Peru and Brazil shortly, to support Korean companies seeking business opportunities and to strengthen cooperation in the field of natural resources. Moreover, in June 2010, President Lee Myung-bak promoted the cooperation between the Central American countries and the ROK through the 3rd ROK-SICA Summit, his official visit to Panama, and state visit to Mexico.
President Park Geun-hye further improved the relationship between the ROK and Latin American countries through bilateral summits. President Park visited Colombia, Peru, Chile and Brazil in 2015, and maked an official visit to Mexico in 2016, making current relations between the two sides friendlier and stronger than ever.
Furthermore, the ROK is actively pursuing to sign FTAs with LAC as a means to strengthen economic cooperation. The LAC region represents a vast market worth 5.3 trillion US dollars (based on 2015 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. It is also anticipated that the ROK-Peru FTA signed in March 2011, which went into effect in August of the same year, will increase trade and investment between the two countries. Encouraged by such momentum, the ROK signed the FTA with Columbia in February 2013, which entered into force in 2016, and concluded FTA negociations with 5 Central American countries(Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras) in 2016.