China-Uruguay relations tightened under BRI, setting stage for expanded trade
Published: Nov 23, 2023 10:47 PM
The flags of China and the Eastern Republic of Uruguay hang at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on November 20, 2023, welcoming the state visit of President Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay. Photo: VCG

The flags of China and the Eastern Republic of Uruguay hang at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on November 20, 2023, welcoming the state visit of President Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay. Photo: VCG

Uruguay looks forward to further enhancing economic and trade cooperation as well as people-to-people exchanges with China, including collaboration under the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou said at a press conference in Beijing on Thursday.

Lacalle made these remarks during his five-day visit to China, which runs from Monday to Friday. This visit coincides with the 35th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries and marks the fifth anniversary of Uruguay's participation in the joint construction of the BRI. The trip further strengthens the relationship between this Latin American nation and the world's second-largest economy, and also its largest trading partner.

Lacalle also emphasized his concerns about the rise of global trade protectionism and called for a collective defense of free trade.

The Uruguayan president saw substantial results from the visit, during which the two countries signed 24 agreements covering various areas of cooperation.

A notable highlight was the announcement on Wednesday to elevate bilateral ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership, with an agreement to deepen collaboration in trade, agriculture, cultural exchanges, and the joint construction of the BRI, according to media reports.

During Thursday's press conference, the Uruguayan president emphasized that the elevation to the comprehensive strategic partnership is based on the trust between the governments and peoples of both nations. 

Lacalle said that this upgrade in bilateral relations will further enhance Uruguay's role as a key gateway in Latin America, facilitating dialogue and exchanges with China.

The president also discussed the significant importance of the BRI in promoting bilateral economic and trade relations. He highlighted that since joining this initiative, particularly leveraging Uruguay's unique position as a gateway to Latin America and the Southern Common Market, cooperation between Uruguay and China has deepened in a range of fields, from production and manufacturing to logistics.

The president stated that another purpose of his visit to China is to advance a free trade agreement. 

Over the 35 years since Uruguay established diplomatic relations with China, the categories and quality of exports have shown year-on-year growth and significant improvement, Lacalle said.

He said that as a member of the Southern Common Market, Uruguay is actively coordinating negotiations. 

We are inviting all member countries of the Southern Common Market to participate fully in negotiations for a free trade agreement with China, Lacalle said.

The president is hopeful for swift progress and the early realization of the bilateral free trade agreement.

In the joint statement released on Thursday regarding the establishment of a comprehensive strategic partnership, the free trade agreement is also mentioned.

Both sides offered congratulations on the successful completion of the joint feasibility study of the China-Uruguay Free Trade Agreement, take note of the study's conclusions, and reiterate their commitment to promoting the development of their free trade partnership. Additionally, both parties express their willingness to advance dialogue on a China-Southern Common Market free trade, the statement said.

China's status as Uruguay's largest trading partner reflects the significant economic ties between the two nations. China is the largest importer of Uruguayan beef, soybeans, and wool. Chinese exports to Uruguay include manufactured goods such as clothing, footwear, mobile phones, motorcycles, and air conditioners.

Wang Youming, director of the Institute of Developing Countries at the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing, told the Global Times on Thursday that the president's visit has injected new momentum into the economic and trade relations between China and Uruguay.

Both sides vowing to strengthen cooperation, particularly under the BRI, indicates that the bilateral strategic alignment is indeed deepening, and in particular expanding into new economic and trade domains such as digital economy, green economy, clean energy, and service trade, Wang said.

Moreover, given Uruguay's current need for foreign investment, the comprehensive strategic partnership provides a solid foundation to consolidate existing cooperation areas and expand into emerging fields, Wang said.

"With this foundation of a relationship upgrade, China-Uruguay ties are poised to enter a high-quality development phase across political, economic, and cultural exchanges," Wang said.