Argentina Tells Uruguay to Exit Mercosur If Bloc Is a Burden

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Argentine President Alberto Fernandez sent a pointed message to his Uruguayan counterpart Luis Lacalle Pou at the end of the Mercosur summit: If you don’t like the South American trade bloc, you’re welcome to leave.

The tense atmosphere arose after Lacalle Pou defended that member countries should have more flexibility to cut their own trade deals. Uruguay, frustrated with the slow pace of negotiations with other blocs and nations, won’t tolerate a Mercosur that acts like a “corset” when it comes to such agreements, the president said at the summit on Friday.

“If we’re a burden, take another boat,” Fernandez said later.

Argentina Tells Uruguay to Exit Mercosur If Bloc Is a Burden

Lacalle Pou, whose father was one founding presidents of the bloc that also includes Brazil and Paraguay, has met with other Mercosur heads of state in recent months to pitch the idea of loosening rules that restrict them from signing their own trade deals.

On Friday, he upped the ante by declaring that Uruguay would formally submit its flexibility proposal to the bloc. “There isn’t time for grand speeches and committees. We have to act,” Lacalle Pou said.

Read More: U.S. Should ‘Listen to’ Mercosur as China Courts Bloc: Uruguay

The tension seen on Friday reflects the ideological divide between populist Fernandez and his pro-market Mercosur counterparts. Beyond Lacalle Pou, Argentina’s president has clashed with Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro over a range of issues. The Argentine also rejected on Friday the idea of lowering tariffs applied to imports that enter into the Mercosur bloc, something Bolsonaro and others have pushed for.

Wedged between Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay’s main source of revenue come from its exports of soy, beef, dairy and other farm products to global markets. While Argentina is no longer the major trading partner it was in the 20th century, Uruguay’s tourism sector depends on millions of Argentine visitors who flock to its beaches in a normal year.

After Fernandez had campaigned for Lacalle Pou’s opponent in Uruguay, the two presidents appeared to have patched things last November, during a lunch meeting in which they laughed, embraced, and ate grilled steak in the garden of Uruguay’s presidential residence.

Read more: Argentina’s Fernandez Went to Uruguay to Meet Lacalle Pou

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