Brazil does not intend to get involved in the dispute between Argentina and Uruguay over the construction of two cellulose factories along the banks of the Uruguay River, which divides those two countries.
On Friday, May 5, Argentina denounced Uruguay in the Hague International Court, the judicial organ of the United Nations.
"We give help when we confirm the possibility of helping. Sometimes the best way to help is to remain silent; other times it’s through dialogue," affirmed the minister of Foreign Relations, Celso Amorim.
"There is a strong feeling by one of the parties that this is a bilateral question, and we respect this position. Obviously, if there is something we can do, we shall do it, at the appropriate moment. But what is needed is to allow the two sides to come to an understanding," he added.
The Argentinean government claims that its neighbor violated international agreements regulating the use of the river. It also asserts that the factories jeopardize the environment. Uruguay’s defense is that the projects adhere to international standards and will attract jobs and investments to the region.
According to Amorim, controversies of this type "always exist" and are independent of the fact that the two countries are fellow members of the Mercosur.
"It’s something that could have occurred with or without the Mercosur. Similar problems arise in other blocs. There are things that are in our power to resolve, and others, not. They have to follow their natural course," he considered.
The conflict over the factories that are being built by the Spanish National Cellulose Company (ENCE) and the Finnish company, Botnia, has already gone on for two months and led to a political crisis between the governments led by Nestor Kirchner of Argentina and Tabaré Vasquez of Uruguay.
In February and March, Argentinean demonstrators blocked traffic for 45 days on the main route between the two countries, running from Gualeguaychú on the Argentinean side to Fray Bentos on the Uruguayan side. Kirchner and Vasquez agreed upon a 90-day construction delay to permit a rigorous investigation of pollution risks.
On Friday, as Argentina was filing its case in the International Court, Uruguay initiated an arbitration procedure in the Mercosur, "due to the failure on the part of the Argentinean government to take adequate steps to deal with the barriers to free movement imposed by the blockade in Argentinean territory, impeding access to the San Martín and Artigas international bridges, which link the two countries."
With regard to the possibility of Uruguay’s withdrawing from the Mercosur, Amorim commented that Brazil "assigns great importance" to that country’s role in the bloc.
"The Mercosur is not just an economic union; it is a political union. For this reason the presence of the smaller countries is essential, as it was in Europe," he pointed out, adding that, from the bilateral perspective, Brazil has tried "to do everything possible to improve the situation of the smaller Mercosur countries." "Which doesn’t mean that this has been enough," he emphasized.
In the minister’s view, one of the weaknesses of the Mercosur has perhaps been its inability to meet the expectations of the smaller countries "in a more dynamic way."
"Not for a lack of desire to do so. We and they believed we would accomplish this by eliminating duties and determining rules on exceptions. Unfortunately, as we now realize, that wasn’t sufficient," he observed.
Amorim argues that Brazil should develop industrial and governmental procurement policies to stimulate productive capacity in the Mercosur’s smaller members.
"This would represent a genuine cultural revolution in the bureaucracy itself and the entrepreneurial class. But we believe that integration is the only way we will acquire an effective presence in international economic relations," he said.
"If we are not aware of this in South America, if we are not capable of building this bloc, we will act in a fragmentary manner to our own detriment."