Uruguayan Foreign Minister Francisco Bustillo Monday told his Mercosur colleagues in Puerto Iguazú that “from the first day we warned that Mercosur had been won over by immobility” and insisted no progress regarding deals with other countries or blocs had been achieved during Argentina's pro tempore presidency of the alliance ending Tuesday.
Bustillo made those remarks during the Foreign Ministers' on the opening day of the two-day 62nd Mercosur Summit in the Argentine province of Misiones, during which Argentina's Alberto Fernández is expected to pass on the baton to Brazil's Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
The bloc has not been able to consolidate within itself policies that would allow for a substantial increase in trade ties among its members and, at the same time, it has remained on the sidelines of important trade negotiations taking place in the international arena, Bustillo went on.
We do not have agreements with any of the main economic and commercial powers in the world, and we do not have tangible progress with Asia, which is the most dynamic region in economic terms, he added.
Regarding the European Union deal, Bustillo underlined that no progress had been achieved during Argentina's six-month pro tempore presidency. He also stressed that Uruguay and China awaited Mercosur's response on the trade agreement and insisted Uruguay would not accept immobility.
We have always been sincere and frank about our country's position in which we have conveyed a critical view regarding the state of development of the regional integration process, Bustillo added.
Mercosur has not been able to consolidate within itself policies that would allow a substantial increase in trade links between its members and, at the same time, it has remained on the sidelines of important trade negotiations taking place in the international arena, he also noted.
Bustillo recalled that Mercosur has some potential agreements with Singapore, the European Free Trade Association, and the European Union. Let's look at the case of Singapore. In July 2022, already a year ago, we announced the end of the technical work. Today, however, the negotiation remains unfinished and is under review by Brazil, he elaborated.
In the meantime, Uruguay has made progress and completed a joint feasibility study with the People's Republic of China and these two countries are now waiting for the study requested by Mercosur on this possible agreement. The other members expressed their concern that they would also like to carry out a study along the same lines. Well, China is waiting, Uruguay is waiting, Bustillo said.
As we have repeatedly said, for Uruguay, it is always better to be accompanied at any negotiating table by Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay but the only thing we will not allow ourselves is immobility, the Uruguayan minister stressed.
We must recognize ourselves and strive not for what we would like, but for what we can really be: a free trade zone, he also noted while highlighting the difficulties to ensure a normal functioning of intra-bloc trade flows due to barriers that create a scenario of uncertainty and a lack of predictability that affects workers, businessmen and citizens alike.
We have had, for more than ten years, a trade deficit with Mercosur partners, Bustillo pointed out. Uruguay exports to Mercosur about 25% of its production, while Uruguay receives more than 40% of its imports from the bloc, he added while underlining that there was no common external tariff, each member country charging national tariffs.
We remind you that today there are three national tariffs, an element that leaves out any hint of a common market and/or customs union. In an activity, ours, so affected by acronyms, perhaps we should speak of Zocosur, more than Mercosur, this is a common zone of the south, Bustillo ironized.
He also criticized Argentina's non-automatic import licenses which stalled Uruguayan products through more than 600 applications that are pending authorization.
We could talk for hours about Mercosur, but it is just as important to talk about the bilateral relations that we have been building between us,” Bustillo went on.