By Peter Tase
Paraguaya’s President Horacio Cartes conducted his first official visit on October 25, to Uruguay. The visit comes soon after Mr. Cartes begun his presidential term, in which he has been highly engaged and pragmatic, and promoted the international investment potential that his country has to offer unlike any other president who has ruled Paraguay in the last 24 years.
As Asuncion continues to be outside of the MERCOSUR trade block, Mr. Cartes’ numerous official visits, in the region, Europe and United States, have shown a highly positive, proactive and a vibrant foreign policy strategy that sooner or later will have a direct impact in order to improve Paraguay’s national image and attract strategic investment in the Guaraní speaking nation. In the first two months in office, Mr. Cartes has conducted official visits in Suriname, where he met with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro; in Argentina, welcomed by president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner; in Chile, Brazil and in the United Nations General Assembly in New York. In October 18-19, President Cartes participated in the XXIII Iberoamerican Summit in Panama City, where he met with the presidents of Costa Rica and Mexico.
On the other hand, Mr. Cartes will not participate in the upcoming MERCOSUR Summit of December 17 in Caracas, due to the fact that Paraguayan National Congress has not yet approved Venezuela’s membership to MERCOSUR. The Caribbean country was admitted last year to the Southern Common Market Block immediately after the political impeachment against the former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo in June 20th, 2012. According to Paraguayan Foreign Minister Eladio Loizaga ” First Paraguayan congress must approve Venezuela’s incorporation to Mercosur before the participation of Paraguayan leadership in the upcoming summit.”
In their official meeting both presidents, Jose Mujica and Horacio Cartes, agreed to further strengthen bilateral ties and ratified their respective governments’willingness to work intensely in the areas of trade, industrial and cultural cooperation, while respecting the mutual interests, reciprocity and values of friendship.
Both leaders underlined the excellent relations between the two countries which are instituted upon common ideas, regional economic development, integration of transportation logistics, and above all the aspirations towards integrating both nations in a globalized economy.
As President Cartes concluded his official visit, he joined his Uruguayan counterpart to give a joint press statement that encompassed all areas of mutual cooperation in the fields of economic development, politics, commerce, education and culture. President Mujica paid a particular emphasis to the traditional and historical ties that exist between both countries dating back in 1820 when the father of Uruguayan Nationhood, Jose Gervasio Artigas was hosted by Paraguay’s dictator Dr. Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia in Asuncion and continued to live there in exile and subsequently died thirty years later. Mr. Mujica reiterated his nation’s interest to develop its infrastructure and desire to work with Asuncion in order to iron out the differences and better defend their mutual interests in the region and beyond. The creation of new workplaces as a source of eradicating poverty and reduction of unemployment as well as respect for human rights were additional items of discussion between the two leaders.
In 2008, Asunción signed a bilateral agreement on commercial Air transportation with Montevideo, which guaranteed open skies for airline companies operating in both countries. Starting next year both parties will renew this agreement and Montevideo will have an airline that will conduct commercial and cargo flights to Asuncion.
On the other hand, social development and the renewal of the mixed committee on the war against drugs was part of the discussion; this committee is expected to meet in the first quarter of 2014.
Commercial Exchange was an important item in the bilateral agenda, considered to be a great source of employment and industrialization of both nations’ economies. In this context President Cartes was in agreement with President Mujica towards establishing a bilateral commercial and industrial commission that would address a sustainable and a balanced growth in bilateral trade.
According to President Cartes: “Paraguay considers Uruguay as a strategic ally in relation to logistics, fluvial transportation and picking up momentum in order to increase the presence of the two nations’ products in international markets. Uruguayan government has allowed the development two free trade deposit zones in Montevideo and Nueva Palmira, in order to attract a higher circulation of goods coming from Paraguay.” The port of Montevideo is expected to expand and very soon will have new unloading docks due to a growing demand for service provided to shipments originating from Paraguay.
Additionally the foreign ministers of Paraguay and Uruguay will conduct a series of meetings in order to facilitate the implementation of a dynamic bilateral agenda, focused in commerce, culture, education and logistical infrastructure. In this context the Paraguay – Parana intergovernmental committee was established and it will serve as a technical body that will address logistical and transportation of shipments in the Parana River that originate from Paraguay as well as expand port infrastructure in Montevideo by building a deep water port with access in the Atlantic.
The official meetings of Uruguay will bring both countries closer and it will certainly open the doors for President Pepe Mujica to visit Asuncion for the fourth time since he took the oath of office in 2010.