Uruguay hopes to join China’s B&R initiative

By Li Ying Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/15 17:08:39

Fernando Lugris, the Uruguayan Ambassador to China Photo: Li Hao/GT

For Fernando Lugris, the Uruguayan Ambassador to China, there could be no better time to be in Beijing than when China is affirming its One Belt and One Road initiative. As the first Southern Common Market (Mercosur) country to show a willingness to participate in the initiative, Uruguay is poised for more political and economic cooperation with China. In a recent interview with the Global Times (GT), Lugris shared his opinion on China-Uruguay relations and how Uruguay can contribute to the Belt and Road initiative.

GT: In your opinion, how can the One Belt and One Road initiative influence the world?

I think the most important outcome is that the initiative, which was born as a Chinese initiative most probably for its neighbors and the Euro-Asian region, has become a global initiative that countries in every part of the planet are considering seriously. This is already a big achievement.

Uruguay wants to participate by giving our own perspective from the Southern Atlantic, which is politically interesting. If the initiative receives the full support of the Southern Atlantic, it means that the initiative is a great idea and we are all considering it very seriously.

GT: What are the elements Uruguay can contribute the initiative?

The elements are a part of our identity. We are a stable and democratic country, and we have always been open to free trade. In logistics, Uruguay is the hub in the Southern Atlantic Ocean, so the 21st Maritime Silk Road concept is absolutely interesting for us. Uruguay attaches a lot of importance to food security, so we also want to participate with our excellent agricultural business and global services.

GT: During the Uruguayan president's state visit to China in October, he confirmed Uruguay's willingness to pursue a free trade agreement with China. How are the negotiations proceeding?

The two most important outcomes of the visit were the agreement to upgrade our bilateral relations to the level of a strategic partnership.

[Second,] within that context, the leaders of the countries decided to start the conversation for a free trade agreement, and they even put an ambitious deadline to have the agreement by 2018 to celebrate the first 30 years of diplomatic relations between the two nations. The Uruguayan government is doing all its internal work to get ready. Conversations within the Mercosur are also taking place, and we keep a very fluid and frank dialogue with the ministry of commerce in China.

GT: Some media say that "a free trade agreement with China means that maybe it's time for Uruguay to make a choice between Mercosur and China." What is your opinion?

There is no such situation. The offer of a free trade agreement was made by China to Mercosur many years ago, and Uruguay accepts the invitation and is ready to move in this direction. It's absolutely key that we negotiate with the partners with whom we have more common interests. China is our first trade partner, so we think that this is the right moment for Uruguay and also an opportunity for Mercosur to further negotiate with China. But if not all Mercosur members are ready, Uruguay also understands and asks for the understanding of the other members to allow Uruguay to move faster, maybe as the first Mercosur country to achieve a free trade agreement with China.

GT: Can you highlight some of the ongoing cooperative agreements between China and Uruguay?

The strategic partnership gives us a great opportunity to interact at different levels. The political discussions are in the best moment of history with many delegations coming and going. In agriculture, China is our first market. We are expecting to have a lot of Uruguayan students come to China, and we are also receiving Chinese students at our universities. One of the areas in which we want to increase the level of understanding is our services. Uruguay is an important country that provides and exports services to the world.

We also want to promote Uruguay as a tourist destination. Punta Del Este is going to host the 2017 China-Latin America and the Caribbean Business Summit, which will become a great platform for business communities in China, Latin America and the Caribbean to get together and think of how we can make progress in our bilateral relations in investment, trade and many other exchanges.


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