Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo returns home this week after a two-week” tour of Asia where he went in search of new markets for Paraguay’s two largest exports, beef and soy.
Before leaving, Lugo wrote in ABC Color that since Asia will be the primary growth market this century, Paraguay must “put into practice an economic, commercial, and political strategy toward Asian-Pacific nations”.
As such, he called his trip “an investment” in Paraguay’s future. But some question what real benefits the trip will provide.
Lugo’s two-week tour took him to Taiwan, India, Thailand, South Korea, and Japan. In those countries, Lugo met with heads of state and local business leaders. He hailed his country’s production capacity saying: “we are a nation of 6 million with the capacity to feed 60 million.”
He encouraged Asian investors to come to Paraguay, calling it a “gateway to Mercosur” that is “more favourable to investors than Argentina, and more attractive than Brazil.”
He sought technology-transfer agreements and investments in value-added industry.
“One day we hope Paraguay will not export one grain of corn or wheat without processing it first,” he told Indian investors.
Two of the trip’s achievements involved a pledge from a Taiwanese company to develop a solar energy project in the Chaco and the establishment of direct flights between Paraguay and South Korea.
But some observers raised concerns, given investment pledges made during past trips that never materialized. In a 2011 visit to Taiwan and Vietnam, Lugo came home with a promise of a 100 million dollars investment from Vietnamese telecommunications company Viettel that has yet to be developed.
“These trips always bring big promises, but little in the way of concrete, practical results,” Eduardo Felippo, head of Paraguay’s Industrial Union, said in an interview.
Paraguay’s continued relations with Taiwan were also questioned; it’s the only South American country to still recognize Taiwan as the legitimate seat of the Chinese government, and Lugo spent five days of his two-week sojourn in that country.
But while Lugo reaffirmed Paraguay’s commitment to Taiwan, Raúl Torres of the Paraguay-China Cultural, Commercial, and Industrial Chamber wondered if Paraguay wouldn’t benefit more from relations with Beijing. “It goes against reason that we do not consider the People’s Republic of China a partner,” he said.
Others used the trip to criticize Lugo’s frequent travel abroad. The tour is Lugo’s 74th since assuming office in 2008, and Lugo has reportedly spent more time out of the country than any previous head of state—averaging a trip abroad every 17 days.
An ABC Color editorial asks if Lugo would be better off addressing the country’s pressing problems at home—such as corruption, insecurity, and trade disputes with its Mercosur associates—rather than travelling abroad.
“With visits to the Taj Mahal, we won’t achieve anything” says ABC Color. However, Lugo himself might disagree. “Any well-informed person knows that you can’t ignore Asia if you want to grow economically” he wrote about his trip.