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Uruguay, Argentina trade barbs over port

Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman is seen talking to Uruguay President José “Pepe” Mugica and his Uruguayan counterpart Luis Almagro in a file photo.
By Guillermo Háskel
Herald Staff

Victory Front lawmaker wonders why Montevideo should benefit from local exports

Tensions between Argentina and Uruguay over port rights intensified yesterday as an Argentine lawmaker who belongs to the ruling Victory Front rejected charges from the Uruguayan government that yesterday accused a top Argentine port official of seeking to harm Uruguayan exports.

“It is not true that we want to hurt anyone,” Gastón Harispe, who is the vice-president of the Lower House’s Maritime, Fluvial, and Fishing Ports Affairs Committee, told the Herald.

“Where is it written that our Rosario, Buenos Aires, La Plata ports ... can’t benefit from transferring Argentina’s own cargo?” Harispe wondered.

Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro yesterday accused Argentina’s Under-Secretary for Ports Horacio Tettamanti of seeking to harm Uruguay’s export sector by banning trans-shipment of Argentine cargo at Uruguayan ports, while also limiting the size of Paraguayan barge convoys.

In radio remarks Almagro said: “Tettamanti would be the first anti-Artiguist.”José Gervasio de Artigas is Uruguay’s founding father.

“It is not about the Uruguayan people or the Artiguists,” Harispe countered. “Why should million of tonnes of Argentine agricultural and beef exports be exported through Uruguay just because of the will of some transnational companies that operate in Argentina and Uruguay when we have in Argentina our own workers, structures and logistics?”

The resolution that banned transshipment in Uruguayan ports was largely seen in the neighbouring country as revenge for Montevideo’s approval of the UPM (ex Botnia) pulp mill expansion.

“Tettamanti would be Sarratea,” added Almagro referring to a Governor of Buenos Aires who was an enemy of Artigas during the fight for the independence of Argentina and Uruguay.

Almagro ruled out speculation that Resolution 1108 was issued as a retaliation for Uruguay’s alleged refusal to sign a bilateral cargo accord with Argentina.

“That is nonsense,” Almagro said. “Uruguay has indeed proposed a bilateral cargo accord, but Argentina has not responded yet.”

The Uruguayan Foreign Minister was reacting to statements from Tettamanti, who had said: “We cannot end up being the valet of (the Uruguayan port of) Nueva Palmira. We cannot end up being a landlocked country to maximize the profits of international shipping companies. There are some people in Uruguay who hallucinated with becoming the logistics hub in the Southern Cone and thought that Argentina would watch with its arms crossed.”

NO HARM INTENDED

Argentine officials have said that Resolution 1108 was not meant to harm Uruguay but that it was a “national policy to adopt measures that would benefit Argentine exports and, as a result, Argentine cargo must be shipped from Argentine ports.”

Tettamanti added that Argentina had invited Uruguay to sign a cargo accord that Argentina has signed with Brazil in the 1960s and that allows Brazil to take Argentine cargo for its subsequent shipment abroad.

Harispe is spearheading legislation in Congress to strengthen Argentina’s merchant fleet and shipbuilding sector. He has the support from unions and the shipping sector.

Argentina shares with Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay the 3,440-kilometre long Paraná-Paraguay rivers waterway known as “hidrovía” but its is at a strong disadvantage regarding its neighbours. About 80 percent of the barges and oil tankers, and 90 percent of the motor vessels sailing through the hidrovía fly the Paraguayan flag.

Merchant navy captain Sergio Borrelli — the trustee of the General Ports Administration (AGP) state firm running the port of Buenos Aires — has said that the Mercosur trade bloc has failed to play a key role to solve the asymmetries between its members. He added that there were no asymmetries with Brazil in terms of shipping utilization and that the main ones were with Paraguay, “a country that seems to have specialized in being more flexible than us in every field.”

Argentina and Uruguay for years have been at odds about a pulp mill built by a Finnish company on Uruguayan soil. Argentina alleges that the factory pollutes the river that separates the two countries.

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