President Alberto Fernández received his Uruguayan counterpart, Luis Lacalle Pou at the Olivos presidential residence on Friday, with both leaders searching for common ground amid tensions over the future direction of the Mercosur trade bloc
According to an official statement from the Presidency, both leaders “analysed different aspects of the bilateral and regional relationship” during talks punctuated by a dinner.
Also in attendance were First Lady Fabiola Yáñez, Foreign Minister Felipe Solá and his Uruguayan counterpart Francisco Bustillo, who pushed for the meeting to take place.
Lacalle Pou and Bustillo arrived in Argentina around noon on Friday, visiting their country’s Embassy and Consulate and meeting with Uruguay’s Ambassador to Argentina Carlos Enciso Christiansen before visiting Olivos.
Little news emerged after the meeting other than photographs of the occasion, though Uruguayan officials confirmed that the Partido Nacional leader had returned to his country later that evening.
According to government sources in Montevideo, the dinner date was “compensation for the asado [Lacalle Pou hosted] at Anchorena” – a reference to the last time the two leaders shared a meal, last November.
Expectations over the meeting in Buenos Aires were measured, with the dinner mostly viewed as a chance for both leaders to rebuild their political dialogue after tensions emerged over the economic future and direction of the Mercosur back in June.
According to the local press, Lacalle Pou arrived bearing wine as a “gift of peace.”
The duo have clashed in the bloc’s last two major sumits, with Lacalle Pou wanting the Mercosur’s member nations to be able to negotiate individual trade deals with third parties, in contravention of the bloc’s normal consensus.
On March 26, during a virtual summit marking the bloc’s 30th anniversary, the Uruguayan leader had said that the Mercosur “cannot be a burden” to commercial opportunities for his nation. Fernández responded that if Argentina was considered such, Uruguay should “take another ship.”
Lacalle Pou has since said that Uruguay has “a vocation for regional integration – we have a vocation for Mercosur to be a springboard and not a corset or a burden."
Brazil, under far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro, has expressed a desire that members vote to reduce the Common External Tariff (CET), a claim Uruguay is open to, though Argentina is seeking increased openness “in a controlled manner,” seeking protections for key sectors such as the automobile industry and textiles. Paraguay, the other member of the bloc, has sided with Buenos Aires to date.