Uruguayan president Jose Mujica promised on Monday to ‘fight to the death’ for the future of Mercosur in spite of the fact that the group’s junior members Uruguay and Paraguay are suffering the most as Argentina and Brazil implement growing hurdles to trade.
“Our Mercosur has some contradictions, which we don’t respect much and criticize everyday, but heaven help us if it didn’t exist!” he said in a speech he gave at the 53rd Annual Conference of the Inter-American Development Bank in Montevideo.
“Who would we be selling these little cars we assemble to? We’d be selling them to Germany or the US,” he asked, in reference to the auto assembly lines set up in Uruguay with Chinese funds that dealt with their share of trouble last year due to the new Brazilian trading restrictions.
“What would I say to our biggest privately-owned corporation, (dairy company) Conaprole? ‘You have lost Brazil, your biggest market, because we’re now selling to the world’,” he added.
Mujica said “the big countries in Latin America must understand that they also need us, the small guys. And they have to accept it humbly. You can’t go around merrily playing with fiscal issues, and with inflation”.
“The Mercosur defects are our defects and we will fight them to the death without compromising and without giving up; nobody is going to give us prosperity, we have to fight for it,” he concluded.
The day before Economy minister Fernando Lorenzo warned that “protectionism is the important threat for sustained growth and for regional integration. The advance of trade protectionism in our main partners is very bad news for Uruguay”.
Mujica insisted that the Mercosur region has to fight its “pains and sorrows, while negotiating and fighting so its small industries can have a market” to do business.
The Uruguayan head of state also urged for an increase in multilateral collaboration with other member countries in areas such as energy, education and investigation.
President Mujica statements come in a time in which the Uruguayan opposition, as well as the country’s business leaders, has criticized his government for an alleged lack of response to the new trade blocks applied by Argentina and Brazil.
According to the latest stats from the Union of Exporters, Uruguay’s sales to Argentina plummeted 46.61% during February and 1.200 workers have been sent to unemployment insurance. Industries most affected are metal, clothing, printing, paper and pulp and plastic, plus vehicles and auto parts.