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LATIN AMERICA | 15-02-2020 09:38

Bolsonaro and Fernández open to meeting, as ties with Brazil warm

Foreign Ministry Felipe Solá flies to Brasilia this week, as ties with Argentina’s giant neighbour finally began to warm after weeks of remarks and rows.

Foreign Ministry Felipe Solá met with Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro in Brasilia this week, as ties with Argentina’s giant neighbour finally began to show signs of improvement.

Indicating the outspoken far-right leader may have cooled his criticism of Argentina’s new leaders, Solá – who met with Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo while in the Brazilian capital – said the outspoken far-right leader had proposed a meeting with President Alberto Fernández.

Brazil is Argentina’s biggest trading partner, with exports topping US$9.3 billion alone in 2017, according to official data. Both are key leaders in the Mercosur, with Brasilia wanting the regional trade bloc to undergo a shake-up, with Bolsonaro believed to be eyeing a reduction in tariffs.

Solá, speaking at a press conference Thursday, said he had told Brazilian officials that Buenos Aires understood “that Mercosur must be renewed.”

The meeting between the foreign minister and Bolsonaro was described as “warm” by Foreign Ministry sources, who interpreted its success as a sign ties were improving.

Argentina’s next ambassador to Brazil, Daniel Scioli, who also attended the meeting said the “first stage of work” was underway, saying “specific points” were next on the agenda.

“There is good news – that Brazil is growing and that it favours Argentina and Mercosur,” said the former vice-president.

On Wednesday, Bolsonaro called for a bilateral meeting with President Alberto Fernández in Montevideo on March 1, when incoming leader Luis Lacalle Pou will be sworn-in as Uruguay’s president.

“I am interested in talking with Fernández,” Bolsonaro said Thursday, who said he will “delay” his return from Montevideo “ as much a possible ” to talk with other regional heads of state.” Analysts hope a potential meeting would be a sign that tensions between the two nations have calmed, with pragmatism taking over.

However, Fernández on Thursday placed the potential meeting with Bolsonaro in doubt, though he said he would find other ways to meet his Brazilian counterpart.

“I don’t know if I can go because that day the ordinary sessions of the Congress are inaugurated here in Argentina,” at which he must make a speech, Fernández said in an interview with Rivadavia radio.

“If I can’t travel that day, I’m going to propose [to Bolsonaro] to travel the next day to see him,” he added.

Bolsonaro, who heads an ultra-conservative government with a liberal economic agenda, was an open supporter of former president Mauricio Macri, who was defeated by Fernandez in last October’s election.

The Brazilian president refused to attend the inauguration and planned to send any high-level representation, though he eventually decided Vice-President Hamilton Mourãshould attend.

On Thursday, the two nations agreed to move forward with a common agro-industrial development agenda after talks between officials that began last month.

“Argentina and Brazil, together with the countries of the region, have a huge opportunity to be food suppliers and to add value to the raw materials that are generated in agricultural production,” said Argentina’s Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Minister Luis Basterra.

In other foreign policy remarks, Fernández also said Thursday t hat he would travel to Washington to meet US President Donald Trump “at some time” later this year.

James Grainger

James Grainger

Editor-in-Chief, Buenos Aires Times.

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