The Argentine Chancellery announced on Saturday afternoon (13) that the government had changed plans for the Mercosur summit, scheduled for March 26. Instead of being in person, the event which will mark the 30th anniversary of the launch of the block will be virtual, “due to the health situation in several countries in the region”.
The leaders of the member countries of the group had already confirmed their visit. Argentina is assuming the pro-tempore presidency of the bloc, which also includes Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay as full members. Seven other South American countries are associate members.
The announcement came after a government decision on Friday (12) to reduce international flights from countries with the new variant of the coronavirus, including Brazil.
Argentina had already reduced the frequency between the two countries by 50% in January. Now, of the total that is circulating, it will be further reduced by 20%. The measure is valid, at least, until April 9.
The summit was also expected as it would be the first face-to-face meeting between Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro and Argentinian Alberto Fernández. Live on March 4, the Brazilian president said he would like to have “a private conversation, the two of us in a corner” with the Argentine.
The relationship between the two current representatives, however, was marked by distance. Bolsonaro campaigned for Fernández’s opponent Mauricio Macri in the 2019 elections.
After the Peronist’s victory, the Brazilian said he would not greet the Argentinian and made several criticisms of the “return of kirchnerism” in the neighboring country, which he identified as a turning point for Argentina “towards the Venezuela”.
The federal deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro (PSL-SP), the president’s son, was even more explicit. In September 2020, he said that what was happening in Argentina due to the long quarantine imposed by Fernández was a “calamity” and that the country had been “destroyed by its socialist government in a matter of months”.
From November, however, there was a rapprochement between the countries, after the installation of Ambassador Daniel Scioli in Brasilia.
The first conversation between the two presidents took place in December 2020, a year after Fernández’s inauguration. During this virtual meeting, the Argentinian president asked that the differences of the past be put aside and that “the future be confronted with the tools that work well” for the two countries, “reinforcing all the points of agreement”.
On this occasion, Fernández defended the deepening of integration into Mercosur, while Bolsonaro emphasized the objective of reducing the CET (common external tariff) and broadening the bloc’s trade agreements.
These two themes oppose the Peronist government in Argentina and the Bolsonaro administration. The Argentines are resisting the lowering of the CET, on the grounds that this decision would harm their domestic industry and, for this reason, they have obstructed the negotiations of trade treaties.
The TEC is an import tax shared between the Mercosur partners and requires the consent of the four members to be reformed. Therefore, even though he called the bloc “our pillar of integration”, Bolsonaro stressed the need to create “more agile and less bureaucratic mechanisms”.
Mercosur is going through a delicate period due to the divergence of opinions of its two biggest partners. While Brazil advocates greater trade openness, Argentines take a more protectionist stance.