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Montevideo, September 28th 2023 - 18:46 UTC



Pulp mills dispute will be “taken to Mercosur”

Wednesday, February 1st 2006 - 20:00 UTC
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The controversy over two pulp mills being built in the Uruguayan side of the river that acts as a natural border with Argentina, and environmentalist groups' actions blocking routes and bridges leading to Uruguay to protest the project, will be taken to Mercosur's consideration.

Uruguayan Foreign Affairs minister Reinaldo Gargano confirmed on Wednesday his government's intention which had been suggested the previous week by Housing and Environment Deputy Minister Jaime Igorra. Mr. Gargano left Wednesday for Brazil for a regular bilateral ministerial meeting with his counterpart Celso Amorim.

"We're going to present before Mercosur the actions undertaken by Argentina against Uruguay; we're going to question the routes and bridges blockading and Argentina's accusations that we do not comply with bi-national and environmental agreements", said Mr. Gargano.

"With this decision we want to emphasize our commitment with the region and with Mercosur", added minister Gargano thus jumping into the controversy as to whether the dispute should be taken to regional or international tribunals, following Argentina's announcement that it will demand Uruguay in The Hague, if the pulp mills go ahead.

However Uruguay's Deputy Minister of Industry Martin Ponce de Leon said that Uruguay's intention is "to search for a solution within the region", and underlined the significance of looking "for alternative exits" to the current dispute.

Uruguay's government has given its full support to the foreign-funded plants while Argentina and environmentalists oppose the project, citing recent problems in Spain and Chile as a reason to halt the construction.

The National Spanish Cellulose Company (ENCE) has already been given the go ahead to build a paper plant in the Uruguayan town of Fray Bentos, just across the Argentine city of Gualeguaychú.

Together with the Finnish-owned Botnia plant, it will amount to the largest investment by foreign companies in the history of Uruguay totalling an estimated 1.8 billion US dollars. (Uruguay's GDP is approximately 14 billion US dollars). The Botnia plant alone will produce a million tons of cellulose per year to export to Europe, China and the United States.

But residents from Gualeguaychú have actively protested the proposed construction by organizing a Citizen's Environmental Assembly and blocking the access to bridges leading to Uruguay in the midst of the summer high season causing huge miles long bottlenecks and delays.

Protestors are supported by the governor of the Argentine province Entre Ríos, Jorge Busti, who suggested last week taking the case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, an initiative which was overwhelmingly approved by the provincial congress.

Argentine President Néstor Kirchner will decide this week whether or not the disagreement will be taken to the international court.

Entre Rios residents claim the two plants planned chlorine bleaching process is highly air and water pollutant, following on Spanish and Chilean experiences, and demand a more state of the art process or moving the whole project further south closer to the River Plate.

Uruguayan authorities argue the pulp mills are being built according to the latest European Union environmental regulations and all the information demanded under the framework of the bi-national administration of the river Uruguay has been shared with Argentina.

Governor Busti has appealed to Entre Rios residents to suspend all active protests and blockades now that the provincial legislature voted presenting a formal demand before the International Court of The Hague. But apparently the dominant position among environmentalists and activists is that "until the building of the plants does not stop, the blockading of access to bridges leading to Uruguay will not cease".

This attitude however forcibly involved another actor: Chile. Several Chilean trucks with material and equipment for the two pulp mills have been blocked for days on the Argentine side unable to cross.

Chilean diplomacy so far has politely expressed concern at consular level about the living conditions of the Chilean truckers whose vehicles remain blocked.

"This has caused a human problem for the drivers and a financial problem for the companies involved", said Julio Menchaca Chilean consul in the Argentine city of Santa Fe who recalled that "Argentina and Chile have a free circulation agreement", in spite of the "complexity of the current situation".

Mr. Menchaca revealed to governor Busti that 200 Chilean trucks with equipment and material for the mills should have crossed to Uruguay by mid January.

Categories: Mercosur.

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