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Pulp mills dispute: plans to ban sale of logs to Uruguay

Monday, January 8th 2007 - 20:00 UTC
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The Uruguay Argentina pulp mills controversy took another turn this week when the Argentine province of Entre Rios said it would ban all wood sales to Uruguayan pulp mills and picketers announced a complete land blockade of Uruguay sometime in mid January.

Uruguayan Foreign Affairs minister Reinaldo Gargano warned Monday that if the provincial government of Entre Rios goes ahead and approves a bill banning the sale of wood to Uruguayan pulp mills, Uruguay will appeal to Mercosur because "this is clearly an attempt to liquidate the free trade regional system". "It seems very peculiar that by law a ban is imposed on sales to another Mercosur country. This is an attempt to finish Mercosur and I wonder if they have talked with (Foreign Affairs) minister Taiana and the minister of Economy", said Gargano in Montevideo. "We will closely analyze the situation and will most probably be included in the dialogue next January 16/19 in Rio do Janeiro when the Mercosur presidential summit", he added. "This attitude clearly violates the Mercosur charter. I hope things can improve and The Hague International Court ruling makes things clear and everybody abides", said Gargano. Sometime in the next fifteen days the Court must rule on a request from Uruguay which claimed against Argentina for not impeding pickets that are blocking traffic to Uruguay. Meantime in Parana, Entre Rios governor Jorge Busto announced he would be convening an extraordinary session of the provincial legislature to vote the bill banning the sale of logs and wood to Uruguay. "There's a favorable report on the bill and we will be calling for extraordinary sessions. We can expect the bill to be approved late January, early February and I will promulgate it immediately" said Busti who admitted that the sale of logs and wood to Uruguay is not economically important for the province of Entre Rios. However Busti pointed out that log sales to the Botnia pulp mill under construction in Uruguay could be crucial at certain production peaks, if the plant is to be exploited at its full potential. "Obviously I support the initiative but blocking the sale of logs to Uruguay is not the essence of the problem. We want the plant to be relocated and so it won't contaminate the river", he pointed out in reference to the Uruguay River which acts as a natural border between neighboring countries and which according to Entre Rios residents and environmentalists will suffer irreparable damage to water and air from the discharges of the Botnia-Orion pulp mill. Meantime pickets from Gualeguaychu, Colon and Concordia the three Entre Rios cities which link by bridge with Uruguay, announced they are giving the final touches to a major blocking action to take place in mid January when a big traffic boom is expected. At that time many Argentine tourists who spend their holidays in Uruguayan beaches, and travel with their cars, are scheduled to return to be replaced by a new "shift" of vacationers planning to enjoy the second half of January. If the picketers manage a several days coordinated blockade, which they proved can be done, at the three bridges, it could cause havoc for outgoing and ingoing traffic with damaging effects for the Uruguayan tourist industry for the second season running. The president Kirchner administration which favors the relocation of the Botnia-Orion pulp mill and originally promoted the pickets is now against them since they are "harmful" for Argentina's diplomatic offensive on the matter. However Kirchner has refused to move against the pickets arguing they have the right "to freely express" themselves. Pickets have also threatened "surprise" actions against ferries that, several times a day, cross to Uruguay from Buenos Aires with thousands of tourists. But in this case Kirchner has beefed security at the ferries terminal and federal prosecutors have warned that any attempts to block river transport will end offenders in jail. Uruguayan minister Gargano said he trusted the ferries terminal blockade threat would not take place since the "Argentine government has adopted the correct decisions to prevent such actions to prosper". The intent behind these threats is a "strategy by the environmentalist to scare people from traveling to Uruguay" said Gargano. But picketers' leaders didn't step back on their threats and admitted that "so far it has been a great media success for us". Some even more combative such as Jorge Fritzler from Gualeguaychu said he wasn't scared by prosecutors warnings. "They should be concerned, because I can't see them arresting 20.000/30.000 people we can easily take to the streets of Buenos Aires in support of our cause and helping to block the ferries terminal".

Categories: Economy, Mercosur.

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