Brazil’s "hostile attitudes have killed debate within Mercosur," in particular due to the negative stances of its ultra-liberal Economy Minister Paulo Guedes, complained Foreign Minister Felipe Solá in an interview published by the newspaper O Globo.
"With Brazil there is no debate, whether with ministers, academics, businessmen or trade unions, all that is unthinkable," affirmed Solá during a visit to Rio de Janeiro on Monday to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the agreement for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
Uruguay’s announcement that it will be unilaterally seeking trade agreements with countries and blocs beyond Mercosur plus Brasilia’s pressure to reduce the Common External Tariff are stirring up the discrepancies within the grouping completed by Paraguay.
"Brazil’s position is personalised by a group of economists controlling the Economy Ministry. Their hostile attitudes have killed debate. (...) Mercosur is numbed," underlined Solá, describing the refusal of the ministry under Guedes to converse with their Argentine colleagues as "a very negative attitude."
The orders came from Guedes and then "there was a sincere confirmation [from the Brazilian Foreign Ministry] that Brazil’s position was that of the minister Guedes. I was told that explicitly. The minister Guedes believes that he can lower prices in Brazil by trimming tariffs by 10 percent since by lowering the price of imports, Brazilian producers would be obliged to lower their prices," affirmed Solá.
At the Mercosur Summit on July 8, Brazil’s far right president Jair Bolsonaro criticised "the use of the consensus rule as a veto instrument" within the bloc but President Alberto Fernández defended consensus "as the constitutional spine" of the grouping.
"Argentina is behaving like somebody who wants to preserve a marriage despite what others do. (...) There was no agreement at the summit but Argentina has made an enormous effort over the last year and a half to approximate the Brazilian proposal to reduce the common external tariff," added Solá.
The relations between Brazil and Argentina have been strained ever since Bolsonaro criticised the election of Fernández as president and deteriorated even more due to their differences within Mercosur.
"We’re accustomed to negotiating despite the circumstances and we will continue trying. If the minister Guedes wants to negotiate with us, we’re open but if he wants to impose [his ideas] without negotiating, that’s something else," concluded Solá.
The 30th anniversary of the peaceful use of nuclear energy is considered to be a pioneering mechanism for non-proliferation which, however, today faces growing mistrust between the two countries and new geopolitical challenges.
The creation in 1991 of the Argentine-Brazilian Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC) "was a watershed" in the bilateral relationship, Argentina’s Rafael Grossi, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) who participated in the ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, told AFP.
The ABACC is based on mechanisms for the mutual control of nuclear installations and opened up the way for the consolidation of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, signed in 1968 to prohibit nuclear weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The inspections are carried out in a total of 77 installations (for manufacturing fuel, enriching uranium, reactors, research centres, etc.), 51 of them in Argentina and 26 in Brazil, according to ABACC data.
But things have changed in 30 years and the agreement must "evolve, placing ABACC at a level corresponding to the dimensions of the nuclear plans in both countries instead of sleeping on our laurels saying: 'Fine, what we have done is fantastic so let’s simply maintain the status quo'," highlighted Grossi.
To the challenge of the evolution of the nuclear programmes in each country should be added the appearance or rise of new actors in regional geopolitics such as China or Russia.
"In a situation in which there are forces which did not exist or were not presents 30 years ago and in which both countries have a nuclear capacity, it is evident that [the agreement] must be calibrated and adjusted and the entire system brought up to its task," added Grossi.
Solá, also present at the Rio celebrations, estimated in the O Globo interview that an agreement like 1991 "would not be possible today because a natural distrust would quickly arise with ideology overtaking the issues."
Solá was referring to the strong discrepancies between the centre-left President Fernández and his far right Brazilian colleague Jair Bolsonaro, differences which have crystallised in recent months within the framework of Mercosur.