US President Joe Biden discussed democracy, trade and climate change on Tuesday with Uruguay President Luis Lacalle Pou at the White House in an unannounced visit by one of Latin America’s last centrist leaders.
In the meeting, Biden praised Uruguay as “a regional and global model for democratic governance,” according to a statement from the White House. The two leaders explored "ways to expand the economic relationship" with Uruguay, it continued.
Biden also commended his counterpart’s support for Ukraine — a contrast to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in neighboring Brazil, who said earlier this year that that nation and Russia share responsibility for the war in Europe.
The US president also cited Lacalle Pou’s “defence for fundamental freedoms in Venezuela.” Washington has sanctioned Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro, whose 2018 re-election it does not recognise because it considers the vote to have been fraudulent.
Bloomberg News first reported the meeting, which wasn’t on Biden’s public schedule, earlier Tuesday.
Biden hailed Lacalle Pou’s commitment to the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity — an initiative intended to foster regional competitiveness and resilience that the US is negotiating with Uruguay and countries that include Canada, Chile, Colombia and Mexico.
While those nations have free-trade agreements with the US, Uruguay doesn’t. Although Lacalle Pou has expressed interest in negotiating one with the United States, the Biden administration has made clear that it isn’t interested in brokering traditional tariff-lowering agreements with other nations, abandoning UK and Kenya talks started by the Trump administration.
Lacalle Pou made the stop in Washington on his way to New York, where he was scheduled to attend an event in his honour on Tuesday night hosted by the Americas Society, an education group. The meeting with Biden was organised at the last-minute.
As head of one of South America’s smallest and wealthiest nations, Lacalle Pou has sought a middle ground in the struggle between the United States and China, its top customers for exports of commodities and software. A centre-right president in a region increasingly moving to the left, he’s criticised the US for failing to grasp Latin America’s strategic importance.
Lacalle Pou’s government began studying trade talks with China in 2021, but Beijing suspended the negotiations amid opposition by Uruguay’s regional trade partners Argentina and Brazil.
US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, a Democrat, along with fellow Democratic Senator Tim Kaine and Senator Bill Hagerty, a Republican, on Tuesday introduced a bill that would reduce tariffs on some Uruguayan exports and require the US government to assess Uruguay’s eligibility to be included in the visa waiver programme.