Uruguay committed to reaching free-trade deal with China

The Uruguayan government said Thursday that it was fully committed to reaching a free-trade agreement with China.

“The executive branch is going to take this to the end, and if China wants an agreement we’ll reach an agreement and it will be up to the legislature to either approve or reject it,” Foreign Minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa told reporters after an appearance before the Uruguayan Senate’s International Affairs Committee.

Uncertainty always surrounds all proposed trade deals, according to the minister, who cautioned that they take time and that it is difficult to predict how the negotiations will unfold.

“Look what happened with the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Eleven countries worked on it for years, and now the TPP is quickly unraveling,” he said, referring to the United States’ decision last month to withdraw from the TPP negotiations.

In a memo to the US trade representative, President Donald Trump said his administration instead would deal directly with individual countries to negotiate bilateral trade deals that are beneficial for American workers.

Asked how the other countries in the Mercosur trade bloc (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Venezuela) would view a potential Uruguay-China free-trade deal, Nin Novoa said the terms of the agreement needed to be established and accepted by China before his country could present it to its Mercosur partners for their possible inclusion.

In his remarks to reporters, the foreign minister reiterated his concerns that Trump’s criticism of some of the US’s free-trade deals was creating a great deal of uncertainty for countries like Uruguay, which produces 10 times more food than it needs for domestic consumption.

He added that Uruguay and other small countries would have a more difficult time competing if a protectionist mindset manifests itself in bilateral agreements.

Separately, Nin Novoa said Uruguay intended to expand its free-trade agreement with Mexico, including efforts to open the countries’ respective markets more definitively while simultaneously strengthening labor standards and environmental protections.

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