Uruguayan Foreign Minister Bustillo began a tour of Australia and New Zealand to negotiate his country’s accession to the Trans-Pacific Agreement, a unilateral decision by Luis Lacalle Pou that put the governments of Alberto Fernández, Jair Bolsonaro and Mario Benítez on alert.
Mercosur entered a new institutional crisis due to the political decision of Luis Lacalle Pou to deepen his unilateral strategy of closing free trade agreements outside the regional bloc that Uruguay integrates together with Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.
A few months ago, Montevideo announced negotiations with China to close a bilateral pact excluding Mercosur, and now it is known that it is trying to join the Trans-Pacific Agreement led by New Zealand and Australia alone.
Faced with this public information, the governments of Alberto Fernández, Jair Bolsonaro and Mario Benítez established a diplomatic strategy that is unprecedented in the thirty-year history of Mercosur. Through a common tweet, posted at the same time (9:00 in the morning in Argentina), they warned Uruguay that they will act with the utmost legal rigor to avoid breaking the structural rules of the regional bloc.
“Given the actions of the Uruguayan government with a view to the individual negotiation of trade agreements with a tariff dimension, and taking into account the possible presentation, by the Oriental Republic of Uruguay, of a request for adhesion to the Comprehensive and Progressive Treaty of Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP ), the National Coordinators of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay before the Mercosur Common Market Group kindly inform the National Coordination of Uruguay that the three countries reserve the right to adopt any measures they deem necessary to defend their interests in the legal and commercial spheres”, states the joint communiqué signed by the foreign ministries of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.
The reaction of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay is the direct response to the trip that the Uruguayan foreign minister, Francisco Bustillo, began to Australia and New Zealand to deliver his country’s adhesion to the Trans-Pacific Agreement. Bustillo will carry out this act of full diplomatic symbolism tomorrow in Auckland (New Zealand), because the formal agreement signed by all its members is deposited there.
The Trans-Pacific Agreement is made up of Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, which implies 13 percent of world GDP and a market of more than 500 million inhabitants.
Lacalle Pou believes that Mercosur is a commercial corset for Uruguay and has a road map that aims to achieve a succession of free trade agreements. He has already started that path with China, and now he continues with the Trans-Pacific agreement, despite the strict legal limitations imposed by the current regulations of the regional forum.
The founding norm of Mercosur is precise: the agreements are made between the four partners and the international counterpart, there are no unilateral actions or diplomatic advances alone. For this reason, it drew attention in Buenos Aires, Brasília and Asunción that Lacalle Pou will advance with the Trans-Pacific Agreement.
There was already a formal protest within Mercosur when Lacalle Pou announced his intentions to sign an agreement with China, but that claim did not discourage the strategy of the Uruguayan head of state.
On the contrary: before Foreign Minister Bustillo’s trip to Australia and New Zealand, Lacalle Pou presented three reports from the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Economy and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) encouraging the incorporation of Uruguay into the multilateral bloc that of the Trans-Pacific.
Next week, in Montevideo, Lacalle Pou will hand over the Pro Tempore Presidency of Mercosur to Alberto Fernández. It will be a complex summit due to the geopolitical differences between the two leaders. The Argentine President is betting on deepening the commercial and political mechanisms of the regional bloc, while his Uruguayan colleague is betting on closing Free Trade Agreements outside of Mercosur.
It is the first time that Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay come together to present a formal warning to Uruguay. Until that moment, secret diplomacy had tried to appease differences to prevent a public crisis from placing Mercosur near the institutional abyss.
With the presentation that Bustillo will make tomorrow in New Zealand to add Uruguay to the Trans-Pacific Agreement, and today’s official statement endorsed by Alberto Fernández, Bolsonaro and Benítez, a new chapter -dramatic and with an open ending- opened in Mercosur.
With infomation from EFE