Shared horizons: New Zealand-Latin America connections

Dr Priscila Pilatowsky Goñi




From New Zealand International Review - March/April 2024

240311 NZ Latin America locator map
The Latin America–New Zealand relationship is multi-faceted

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Diplomatic ties, trade links, sporting interests, university ties — all have contributed to the increasing connection between New Zealand and the diverse states of Latin America. The connection has a deep historical background, and is enhanced today by shared perspectives of many international issues and the growing presence of the Latin American community in New Zealand. Despite the difficulties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, both regions are eager to explore new opportunities and ways to collaborate. By sharing common goals, they are striving to create a strong partnership for future growth and prosperity.

Latin America has become an important player in New Zealand’s international affairs. The Covid-19 pandemic has emphasised the need to diversify trade and establish new partnerships, leading New Zealand to explore opportunities in Latin America. While diplomatic relations between the two regions began in the late 20th century, many factors are now contributing to the increasing complexity of the exchanges. The Latin American population in New Zealand has grown significantly in recent years. Additionally, more and more New Zealanders are interested in visiting, studying and doing business with Latin America.

Despite the vast geographical distance, both Latin America and New Zealand participate in multilateral forums advocating for key issues such as nuclear non-proliferation, human rights, the environment and gender equality. They also share sporting interests, notably rugby.

It is important to understand the diversity of Latin America as a region. In 2024, six countries in the region will hold presidential elections, undoubtedly impacting powers like Mexico and Brazil, as well as significant economies like Panama and the Dominican Republic, and countries with threatened democracies like Venezuela and El Salvador. Beyond their borders, Latin America is attentive to upcoming elections in the United States, the growing competition with China and how the international situation, marked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Middle East conflict, could affect the region.

Dr Priscila Pilatowsky Goñi is the former chair of the NZIIA’s Palmerston North branch. She holds a PhD in history from El Colegio de México and has a keen interest in international affairs and Latin American political propaganda. She has a background in teaching and research in France, Germany, United States and New Zealand.

This article delves into the multi-faceted relationship between New Zealand and Latin America. It explores the historical roots of the relationship, trade exchanges and educational initiatives. As both regions navigate the complexities of the modern world, the bonds forged between them pave the way for a shared future of prosperity and co-operation.

Debated name

In the 19th century, French politician and economist Michel Chevalier first spoke of a ‘Latin’ America in his Lettres sur l’Amérique du nord.1

Our European civilization stems from a dual origin, the Romans and the Germanic peoples. It is subdivided into two families, each distinguished by its special resemblance to each of the mother nations. One is Protestant, the other is Catholic. The two branches, the Latin and the Germanic, reproduced themselves in the New World. South America is, like Southern Europe, Catholic and Latin. North America belongs to a Protestant and Anglo-Saxon population.2

Chevalier’s vision of the two Americas dominated the 19th century, but the region’s name has been a matter of debate over time. Despite their geographical boundaries, many regions do not consider themselves part of Latin America.

Moreover, not all nations speak Spanish or Portuguese, and some areas are part of other countries, such as Puerto Rico, which is a freely associated territory of the United States.

The term ‘Latin America’ eventually gained acceptance as it includes all countries in the American continent where languages derived from Latin are spoken — Spanish, Portuguese and French — and also countries like Brazil and French Guiana. Latin America comprises 43 countries and is divided into South America, Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico. Spanish and Portuguese are the predominant languages, while French, English and Dutch are also spoken in the Caribbean.

According to Statista, there are approximately 492 million Spanish speakers globally, with 420 million residing in Latin America and the Caribbean.3 Diplomatic relations between New Zealand and Latin America began in the late 20th century. Presently, seven Latin American and Caribbean countries have embassies in New Zealand, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru. Other Latin American countries without embassies in New Zealand maintain bilateral relations through other countries, primarily China, Australia and Singapore.

Early ties

However, New Zealand and Latin America’s relations date back much further. For instance, New Zealand signed the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation with Peru in 1850. In the early 20th century, discussions were held about developing steamship lines and commercial routes to facilitate the transportation of people and goods between Australia, New Zealand and Mexico.4

Historical records from the New Zealand digital newspaper archive Papers Past provide evidence of independent entrepre- neurs promoting wool and meat trade. For instance, in 1936, a Sydney merchant, J. Bryce, mentioned that Mexico was looking to establish wool industries, which could open up export opportunities for New Zealand.5

In our present, one of the reasons to foster relations between Latin America and New Zealand is the continuous increase in the Latin American population in this country. According to data from the Stats NZ’s 2018 census, the Latin American population in New Zealand is 25,731 people. In the last decade, the Latin American population in New Zealand has grown, although the figures vary.

According to the census, the Latin American population tripled, from 6654 in 2006 to 25,731 in 2018. The records indicate that there are 6663 Brazilians, 2886 Chileans, 1620 Colombians, 1425 Mexicans (although the embassy reports around 3000), 1824 Argentines (the embassy reports around 7000 or 9000).6

One of the aspects that surprises the Latin American population the most is being considered as an ‘ethnic group’, which is culturally incompatible for a very diverse population, composed of people from very diverse ethnic backgrounds, altered throughout history.

One of the great advantages of New Zealand is that it has many initiatives that facilitate social cohesion and the carrying out of community activities. One of them is the ‘Community Matters’ project, which offers various financing plans to non-profit organisations. Another is the New Zealand Federation of Multicultural Councils, which has branches in the country’s main cities. On a micro level, Latin American communities extensively use social networks, especially Facebook, to support each other in matters of work, housing, children’s education, trade, sports and leisure. Some of the most renowned communities include ‘Comunidad de Latinos en Nueva Zelanda’, ‘Hola NZ’, ‘LatiNZ LatiNet NZ/AU’ and ‘Mujeres Latinas Viviendo en Nueva Zelanda’, among many others.

Visa scheme

Currently, New Zealand promotes visits by Argentinians, Brazilians, Chileans, Mexicans and Peruvians through the Working Holiday Visa programme. This programme allows young people aged eighteen to 35 to work in New Zealand and travel for a period of up to twelve months. Despite being an excellent opportunity, the number of available visas is limited compared to demand. Additionally, many young people face difficulties in finding employment during the period granted by the visa, leading certain embassies to pressure the New Zealand government to review these schemes.7 According to data from Immigration New Zealand, the majority of young people with approved visas choose to travel to Auckland, Wellington and Otago, and integrate into sectors such as agriculture, fishing, forestry, tourism and hospitality.8

The Covid epidemic’s effects, particularly border closures, restrictions on movement, and disruptions in supply chains, revealed New Zealand’s dependence on Asian countries, notably China.9 This situation underscored the necessity of seeking new contacts and markets, including in Latin America.10

Due to the diverse economies of Latin American countries, their trade relations with New Zealand vary. Presently, Mexico stands as New Zealand’s largest trading partner in Latin America. However, New Zealand maintains close ties with South America, especially with Brazil, Argentina and Chile, owing to the breadth of their agri-food industries.

New Zealand’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade is the most important agency in managing international trade, but partnerships and chambers of commerce also drive it. The Latin America Business Council (LANZBC) plays a pivotal role for Latin American and New Zealand entrepreneurs seeking connections and information. LANZBC organises events, offers guidance and advocates for measures that support trade.11 Similarly, the Latin America Centre for Asia–Pacific Excellence stands out. Established in 2017, it is a consortium of four New Zealand universities, funded by the Tertiary Education Commission, which conducts research in support of business and educational exchanges.12

Significant agreements

Currently, New Zealand and Latin America work together through significant treaties and agreements. New Zealand is an observer of MERCOSUR. In 2018, Minister of Trade and Export Growth David Parker visited Paraguay, engaging with Minister of Agriculture and Livestock Marcos Medina, Minister of Foreign Affairs Eladio Loizaga and a group of entrepreneurs from the country. Parker expressed keen interest in developing stronger ties with MERCOSUR, given that the member nations collectively constitute $2.42 trillion in GDP. 13

In 2005, the Trans-Pacific Economic Partnership Agreement was signed among Chile, New Zealand, Brunei and Singapore. Subsequently, Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, the United States and Vietnam joined. However, the United States withdrew from the agreement in 2017. This treaty underwent revision, and in March 2018 the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) came into effect. Presently, the CPTPP includes Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Vietnam, Peru, Mexico, Singapore, Canada, Australia, Japan and Malaysia.14

The CPTPP aims to dismantle tariff and fiscal barriers through common agreements, reduce disparities and create new economic opportunities for workers and small- and medium-sized enterprises, bolstered by advantageous legal frameworks and rules. It also seeks to liberalise services and investment and establish standards in various areas, such as intellectual property, e-commerce and the environment. For Latin American countries, the CPTPP signifies increased access to both interAmerican and Asia–Pacific markets, particularly in the fisheries, agriculture, forestry and mining sectors. According to data from the World Trade Organisation, Mexico’s trade with its CPTPP partners increased from $71.359 billion in 2018 to $88.531 billion in 2022. Similarly, with the CPTPP, Peru saw an increase in product imports by over $368 million and exported $74 million.15

Sector organisation

Aside from treaties, various entities are organised around different sectors. Regarding the agricultural industry, the Cairns Group, formed in Australia in 1986, is notable. Its members include New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. This coalition seeks to liberalise trade by suspending trade tariffs, preventing them from escalating and eliminating domestic and export subsidies that limit trade among member countries.16 In Latin America, the Fontagro group has developed initiatives to foster scientific and technical co-operation. Its member countries are Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Spain, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela.17

Antarctica, the fourth largest continent in the world, has brought New Zealand and the countries of South America closer together. Its geopolitical importance lies in its natural resources, geographical location and the interest it sparks in scientific research.

Countries bordering Antarctica, and with territorial interests in it, include Argentina, Australia, Chile and New Zealand. Relations date back to the establishment of the Scott Base by Sir Edmund Hillary to support the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, which later became a permanent base. In 1904, Argentina established the Orcadas Base.

In 1959, Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, Norway, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, among others, signed the Antarctic Treaty. This treaty stipulates that the region shall only be used for peaceful purposes; there shall be freedom of scientific research and co-operation towards that end; and countries agree to exchange observations of scientific results, which shall be freely available.18

Student decline

One of the most severe impacts of the Covid epidemic was the decline in foreign students in New Zealand, who contribute a significant portion of university revenues. In May 2022, Chris Hipkins, then minister of education, announced his plan to travel to South America to discuss New Zealand primary schools’ intention to enrol foreign students, following the border closures during the pandemic. He announced that funding of $5 billion had been approved for education.19

According to OECD data, the number of Latin American students enrolled in tertiary education was 473,528 in 2013. This number increased to 685,593 in 2021. Most of them come from Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Colombia and Mexico.20

Education New Zealand is the government agency responsible for international agreements. Over the past years, it has carried out several projects to promote programmes that can benefit Latin Americans, especially through its agencies in Chile and Brazil.21

One of the recent initiatives is to increase the number of students through events such as the New Zealand Virtual Fair and Latin America Masterclasses. These events inform students about study offerings at New Zealand universities, tuition fees, the benefits of obtaining a New Zealand diploma and other advice. According to Education New Zealand, around 6000 international students enrolled in New Zealand universities in 2019.

Regarding support for New Zealand students to study in Lat- in America, the Prime Minister’s Scholarship for Asia and Latin America opens each year, offering funding for enrolment costs, accommodation, flights and living expenses. This programme has supported more than 4155 students since 2013.22

Cultural exchange

Embassies organise a diverse range of events to promote cultural exchanges and provide insight into their respective nations. The Mexican embassy, for example, hosts several iconic celebrations such as ‘El Grito de Independencia’ and ‘Día de Muertos’ every year. In addition, the Latin American and Spain Film Festival is one of the most significant events, which has been a tradition for two decades. This festival is supported by embassies, academic institutions and cultural associations. It showcases a curated selection of ten films from various Latin American countries and is held in multiple cities to promote the region’s cinematic production. The festival also provides a platform for Latin American businesses to showcase their ventures, thereby contributing to the dissemination and promotion of the region’s cultural diversity.23

Furthermore, some museums, in collaboration with Latin American universities and occasionally with governmental support, have launched large-scale exhibitions. A recent example is ‘Nga Taniwha o Rupapa: Dinosaurs of Patagonia’, displaying fossil remains from this region. Similarly, the Latin America CAPE supported the exhibition ‘De la milpa a la mesa’, which highlighted the diversity and richness of Latin American agriculture, showcasing the farming experience and the dynamism of the Mexican market.

In addition to these embassy-led and museum initiatives, the Latin American community residing in New Zealand independently contributes to cultural diffusion through gastronomy, private events and festivities that, day by day, garner more followers in the country, thus enriching the social and cultural fabric of the nation.

Future expectations

The relationship between New Zealand and Latin America is characterised by a rich tapestry of connections, cultural ex- changes and economic co-operation. From the early explorations and trade ventures of the 19th century to the contemporary initiatives aimed at fostering education, trade and diplomatic ties, both regions have forged a dynamic partnership grounded in shared aspirations.

The Latin American diaspora in New Zealand, along with the embassies’ initiatives, underscores the importance of people-to-people exchanges in strengthening bilateral relations. Moreover, the Covid epidemic has underscored the need for resilience and adaptability, prompting both regions to explore new avenues of collaboration.

As Latin America continues to emerge as a key player on the global stage, New Zealand stands ready to engage with the region, leveraging its expertise in areas such as agriculture, technology and sustainable development. Through multilateral agreements like the CPTPP and bilateral initiatives aimed at promoting culture, trade and investment, both regions are poised to unlock new opportunities for growth and prosperity.


1. Michel Chevalier, Lettres sur l’Amérique du nord (Brussels, 1844), p.12.

2. Ibid.

3. Statista, ‘América latina y el Caribe, Datos estadísticos’(es.statista. com/temas/5605/america-latina-y-el-caribe/#topicOverview).

4. ‘New Zealand trade to Mexico’, Auckland Star, vol 31, no 64 (Mar 1900), p.3.

5. ‘New Zealand wool’, Otago Daily Times, 14 Apr 1936.

6. Stats NZ, ‘Latin American ethnic group’ ( tools/2018-census-ethnic-group-summaries/latin-american).

7. Interview with Ambassador Alfredo Pérez Bravo (in following article in this issue).

8. Immigration New Zealand, ‘Working Holiday Scheme Visa Holder Survey Report’, Oct 2022 ( media/working-holiday-scheme-visa-holder-survey-october2022-report.pdf).

9. ‘Is NZ too dependent on China for Trade?’, Exporter today, 12 Aug 2020 (

10. ‘Beneficios comerciales entre Nueva Zelanda y América latina’, BizlatinHub, 26 Oct 2021 ( rciales-nueva-zelanda-america-latina/).

11. ‘Latin America and New Zealand Business Council’ (www.lanzbc.

12. ‘Latin America Centre of Asia–Pacific Excellence’ (

13. ‘New Zealand explores ties with Mercosur’, 8 Mar 2018 (www.bee

14. ‘MFAT, Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership’ ( free-trade-agreements-in-force/cptpp/).

15. Karol Trujillo Miranda et al, ‘Tratado Integral y Progresista de asociación Transpacífico’, Revista de Filosofía, vol 40, no 104 (2023), p.400 (

16. ‘The Cairns Group’ (

17. Fontagro (

18. Secretaría del Tratado Antártico, ‘El Tratado Antártico’ (www.ats. aq/s/antarctictreaty.html).

19. ‘Chris Hipkins to travel to North and South America to promote New Zealand to international students’, 12 May 2022 (www.newshub. nts.html).

20. OECD Stat ( aspx?DataSetCode=EDU_ENRL_ MOBILE).

21. Education New Zealand (

22. Think New, New Zealand Education (

23. Latin America and Spain Film Festival (

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