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Montevideo (AFP) – Brazilian President Luiz Inácio ‘Lula’ da Silva considered it “urgent” for Mercosur to close an agreement with the European Union before negotiating with China, during a visit to Uruguay, a country that is advancing trade negotiations with Beijing on its own.
During his stay in Montevideo, ‘Lula’ also winked at the opposition by holding meetings with former President José Mujica (2010-2015) and other figures from the left-wing Frente Amplio (FA) coalition.
“It is urgent and extremely necessary for Mercosur to reach an agreement with the EU,” exhorted ‘Lula’ after meeting with his Uruguayan counterpart Luis Lacalle Pou.
“We are going to intensify our discussions with the EU and sign that agreement so that we can immediately discuss an agreement between China and Mercosur,” added the visitor, who arrived at the presidential residence accompanied by his wife Rosangela.
Uruguay began negotiations with Beijing and asked to enter the Trans-Pacific Agreement without the consent of its Mercosur partners, generating tensions and warnings from Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay that the bloc could crack.
But Lacalle Pou was clear in pointing out that “we belong to Mercosur and we have that vocation unchanged.”
Montevideo has been asking Mercosur for greater flexibility for years, as well as trade opening, a claim that ‘Lula’ considered “more than fair.”
“It’s fair to want to produce more and want to sell more. That’s why an opening is important,” he pointed out, at the same time that he said he was “totally in agreement” with renewing Mercosur “everything that is necessary.”
Despite the “optimism” expressed by Lacalle Pou after the meeting with ‘Lula’, the tensions within the block are installed.
The partners have made it clear that the Uruguayan position of promoting agreements with third parties violates the founding statutes of Mercosur, created in 1991, and they even threatened Montevideo with legal and commercial measures.
Uruguay considers that Argentina and Brazil have also breached the statutes by adopting measures such as reductions in the Common External Tariff, and that other founding postulates, such as creating a customs union or a common market, have not been fulfilled.
Lacalle Pou recalled at a press conference in Buenos Aires that “the definition” of opening his country’s trade to third parties was adopted in Uruguay several governments ago.
On Monday, Argentine Economy Minister Sergio Massa, along with his Brazilian counterpart Fernando Haddad, said that “Uruguay is one of Mercosur’s younger brothers and Brazil and Argentina have the responsibility of taking care of it like any younger brother.”
Asked about this statement, Lacalle Pou replied that the vision raised from the other bank of the Río de la Plata “looks like Disneyland.”
Support for the opposition
After the meeting with Lacalle Pou, ‘Lula’ went to a meeting with the Mayor (mayor) of Montevideo, Carolina Cosse, one of the main figures of the FA.
The Brazilian received a medal for his contribution to the environment from Cosse, in a public ceremony from a balcony of the Municipality.
‘Lula’ celebrated gender parity by highlighting that “a woman engineer runs this city.”
Some 3,000 people, many wearing the badges of supporters of the FA or the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT), gathered to greet Lula at the gates of the municipal palace, spilling onto Avenida 18 de Julio, which was cut off by the event.
Then he went to the farm of his friend José Mujica in Rincón del Cerro.
‘Lula’ and Rosangela embraced Mujica and his wife, former senator and former vice president Lucía Topolanski.
Among others, they were also the president of the FA, Fernando Pereira, and the mayor of Canelones, Yamandú Orsi, another of the main figures of the FA whose eventual candidacy has the support of Mujica.
Away from the press, they sat down to talk under a green and red awning in the front garden of the farm.
‘Lula’ and Mujica took a ride inside the property in the ex-president’s old Volkswagen beetle.
After the meeting, Mujica told reporters that ‘Lula’ “is in a very difficult game” after the riot on January 8 in Brasilia, and that he is “bitter” about “the situation in his country.”
Regarding integration, he pointed out that “many things must be done that do not have to separate between left, right and center”, because otherwise “we are ballot (we are dead)”. He also urged “to improve Mercosur.”
The meetings with Frente Amplista referents caused discomfort in some members of the government, as they were seen as strong support for the opposition in a pre-electoral year.
“It represents an act of internal politics by establishing a clear preference over a certain political party in the country,” said former president Julio María Sanguinetti (1985-1990, 1995-2000) in statements to the local newspaper ‘El País’.