Milei’s absence at the Mercosur summit was “nonsense,” said Lula

Milei’s absence at the Mercosur summit was “nonsense,” said Lula
Milei’s absence at the Mercosur summit was “nonsense,” said Lula

Argentine President Javier Milei’s decision to skip a Mercosur summit on Monday was “a huge mistake,” said his Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, after the meeting in Asunción of this regional bloc, which is stalled by a delayed agreement with the European Union.

“It is a huge nonsense that the president of an important country like Argentina does not participate in a meeting with Mercosur,” Lula told reporters after the conference.

“What matters is that the Argentine people participate in Mercosur,” Lula continued.

The presidents of the other two founding countries of Mercosur — Uruguay’s Luis Lacalle Pou and the host, Paraguay’s Santiago Peña — also lamented the regional bloc’s lack of integration and its tendency to be undermined by ideological differences.

“If Mercosur is so important, all the presidents should be here. I attach importance to Mercosur. And if we really believe in this bloc, we should all be here,” Lacalle Pou lashed out.

The Uruguayan leader was referring to Milei, an ultra-liberal economist who is carrying out a profound reform of the State in Argentina and who missed the meeting after having exchanged insults with Lula, calling him a “leftist” with an “inflamed ego.”

For his part, Peña said that the bloc was suffering from “integration fatigue.” “It made a lot of progress in the 1990s, but in the 2000s (…) there was a change in the trend with an ideological bias that caused the bloc to disintegrate,” he said.

Argentine Foreign Minister Diana Mondino, representing Milei, replied in her speech: “We don’t have to agree, but we do have to be able to listen to different opinions. I hope that as a group we can achieve this maturity.”

– More flexibility –

Mondino criticised the “excessive regulations” of the regional bloc, with which, instead of defending themselves from other markets, member countries ended up limiting their own exports.

“Mercosur has stopped being an escape valve and has become a corset that immobilizes us,” he said, advocating “ending tariff barriers,” in a position opposed to Argentina’s traditional protectionism.

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Flexibility – which would allow agreements with third countries without the consent of its partners – is an old demand of Uruguay, which assumed the six-month presidency of the group promising to promote an agreement with China.

The mission is difficult: Paraguay has no relations with the Asian country because it recognizes Taiwan, something that Beijing does not tolerate.

“We are not closed to negotiations as a bloc, but we are not willing to give up negotiations that have lasted more than 66 years with the Republic of China,” Peña said when asked if he would approve a free trade agreement with Beijing.

– EU at a standstill –

The meeting takes place amid a stalemate in negotiations for a free trade agreement with the European Union (EU), which has been under negotiation for more than 20 years and which plans to eliminate most tariffs between the two zones, creating a trade space of more than 700 million consumers.

For Lula, the agreement with the EU has not been reached “solely because they have not been able to resolve their internal contradictions.”

The agreement is opposed by some European countries, mainly France, whose agricultural sector fears competition from South American agricultural products.

On a more optimistic note, the presidents highlighted a recent agreement with Singapore, which broke more than a decade of slumber when it was signed in December, and the launch last week of negotiations with the United Arab Emirates.

Bolivian President Luis Arce formalized Bolivia’s entry during the 64th Mercosur summit after having promulgated the accession law days after suppressing an attempted coup d’état in La Paz, which was condemned by the other Mercosur countries except Argentina, which considered it a “fraud.”

In addition, the new Panamanian president, José Raúl Mulino, who participated as an extra-regional guest, announced that he will seek to become part of the bloc as an associate country, joining six other countries in the region.

Venezuela is a full member but was suspended in 2017 due to the “breakdown of democratic order.” In this regard, Lacalle Pou called for “free elections” on July 28, when the ruler Nicolás Maduro will seek a third term that will project him to 18 years in power.

Founded in 1991, Mercosur is the main recipient of foreign investment in South America and has a GDP of 2.86 trillion dollars.

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