Productive Uruguay visit beefs up bilateral relations
The delegation of five UK parliamentarians to Uruguay was led jointly by Rt Hon Lindsay Hoyle MP (Deputy Speaker of The House of Commons) and Nigel Evans MP (Chair of the British Group IPU). The other participants were Lord Howarth, Mark Menzies MP and Graham Stuart MP.
The UK delegation arrived on Sunday 18th September 2016 where they were quickly transported to Expo Prado, one of the biggest agricultural shows throughout the whole of South America. The show attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors and the delegation were treated to a taster of the final day’s events. We were treated to a tour around the livestock, many of which have their roots in the UK. We met gauchos who tend the cattle and travel around the country in their trademark berets.
The commercial importance of the agriculture trade to Uruguay was clear, with trade exhibitions of agricultural devices, tractors, courses in new techniques, and the presence of the British Pavilion with representation from JCB , the British Council, Agriculture colleges, and many other displays. The UK Embassy was also well represented in an Embassy-sponsored competition into novel and ground breaking agricultural methods. We were then treated to Gaucho style music and an array of local meats, including the famous Uruguayan beef. We were hosted by the Speaker of the Uruguayan Senate Dr Gerardo Amarilla MP. We were grateful for his local knowledge and the time he spent telling us about his country.
The next day we met with the Acting President of the General Assembly and Senate, Senator Lucia Topolansky at the Parliament building. It was a convivial and casual meeting where much of the discussion related to opportunities between our two countries with Brexit in mind. We then were escorted to the Speaker’s office where we met again with Gerardo Amarilla MP, the Speaker of the House of Representatives. He was extremely knowledgeable on customs of the Parliament and Lindsay Hoyle was able to pass his greetings from our own Speaker Rt Hon John Bercow MP.
The Speaker ensured we also enjoyed an impromptu visit to the Chamber of the Assembly and we were told about the history of the building. Superb wooden desks in hemicycle design filled the body of the chamber. A huge mural was painted onto the back wall behind the Speaker’s Chair. There are 130 members of the Parliament with 99 Deputies and 31 Senators. Unlike the UK they use electronic voting and everyone gets their own allocated seat.
The afternoon was filled with meetings with MPs from the Committee on Addictions, the IPU group of the Assembly, the Senate friendship group and Members of the International Affairs Committee of the Assembly. Discussions relating to the new liberal drug policy as it pertained to cannabis ensued. Lord Howarth led on this subject and he has committed himself to monitoring the outcomes of this particular policy and lessons that the UK may learn from its implementation.
We discussed the impacts of the UK leaving the EU and we also were able to learn about the importance of Mercosur which is their equivalent of a trading bloc. This operates for five of the South American countries which are Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Venezuela with five other countries in association – Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador with New Zealand and Mexico – as observers.
We learnt that Uruguay’s trade talks with the EU had taken 20 years and nothing concrete had been signed to date. The President of Uruguay was at a meeting of the UN in New York during our visit and we learnt that he had made a statement that Uruguay was interested in discussions with the UK concerning trade post Brexit. This allowed for talks on this to take place later in the week with Ministers and MPs.
The next day we met with the acting President in the imposing Presidential building in the centre of the city. Again we were able to talk about the possibilities of a closer cooperation between the UK and Uruguay post Brexit and we also talked about the drug policy and relations with neighbouring countries. A meeting followed with the President of the National Drug Board where we learnt more of the new policy relating to the relaxation of access to cannabis. Local people will have to register to buy or grown their own cannabis and they will be limited by how much they are able to consume. Brexit relations followed with the Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Jose Luis Cancela and his excellent team. We soon learnt that many Ministers and MPs were well acquainted with the UK and some had children studying at UK universities.
As we were visiting a prison we met with the interior Minister Eduardo Bonomi in the company of Senator Ivonne Passada. We learnt of plans to improve conditions of those in Uruguay prisons and indeed we were later to see this for ourselves on a visit to the prison. The local Mayor Ing. Daniel Martinez was able to inform us of his extensive local powers and the importance of the capitol to the country as almost 1/3 of the population (1.3 million) live in Montevideo.
We then visited the Zonamerica complex on the outskirts of the capital and it is a private free zone established in 1987, with 10,000 people working in 350 tenant companies. It is an amazing futuristic campus spearheaded with drive and headquartered in the award winning Cerebra building which was breathtaking. We followed that visit with a visit to the free zone world trade centre which had stunning views over the city and we met with many local business leaders who were able to tell us about their confidence in Uruguay business and trade, built on the professionalism of their business quarter and the stability of the Government.
We stood on top of a helipad to take in the stunning expanse of the city and its natural coastal charm. We saw a lot more of that with a visit to Punta Del Este and the Maldonado local Government department. This is where the tourism capitol of the country lies and it is quite stunning with over 20,000 hotel rooms and a state of the art convention centre. At the height of the season you simply cannot get a room there as it attract visitors from all over the region.
Our visit to the local prison was interesting as we saw the activities which helped those during their incarceration. We were even entertained by the prison musical band which was quite incredible and tutored by a former inmate.
We finished the visit with a debrief session with our excellent Ambassador Ben Lyster Binns who expertly accompanied us to many meetings and briefed us thoroughly on what we were to experience. I would also like to thank the Ambassador’s Embassy team who looked after us, and also the local IPU team from Uruguay Oscar Piquinela, and Carina Galvalisi. They ensured we were at the right places at the right time. I would also like to thank the local police who accompanied our visit and ensured our safe passage whilst we travelled around the city. Thanks to Dominique Rees and Lauren Tait for their wonderful accompanying of the delegation and their expert guidance on our visit.
The visit was preceded by a visit to Argentina by Nigel Evans and Lindsay Hoyle who spent two days in the capital Buenos Aires. They met with Embassy officials and the newly appointed Ambassador Mr. Mark Kent. Their visit followed shortly after the visit of Foreign Office Minister of State Rt Hon. Sir Alan Duncan MP who had several successful meetings with Argentine Government Ministers and officials including the new President Mauricio Macri. It was felt that this meeting would be important to extend the knowledge base of UK MPs on Argentine affairs prior to the inward delegation of the Argentina IPU Parliamentary delegation in early 2017.
The Embassy and IPU discussions were extensive and fruitful. Much emphasis lay on the new teams in Argentina at the Presidential level and the new UK Government following the UK’s referendum which decided to leave the European Union. Much of the discussion was hinging upon the new relationship between the UK and Argentina post-Brexit and possible areas of common interest which might be pursued following the EU vote in the UK. We also learnt there were to be 34 Chevening Scholars coming from Argentina to the UK this year- one of the largest representations throughout the world per head of the population.