Lula to expedite full Mercosur membership for Bolivia if elected, ex-FM says

Sao Paulo, Sep 5 (EFE).- Brazilian ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told Bolivia’s head of state that, if elected next month, he will help expedite the Andean nation’s accession to full membership in Mercosur, former Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said Monday.

Lula, the clear front-runner ahead of the Oct. 2 first round of Brazil’s presidential balloting, made that pledge during a meeting earlier in the day with Bolivian leftist President Luis Arce at a Sao Paulo hotel, he added.

“Lula has pledged that, if elected, he will expedite Bolivia’s integration into Mercosur, which is very important for international relations,” Amorim said.

Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay have already ratified the full accession of Bolivia (now an associate country) to that South American trade bloc, but acceptance by Brazil’s Congress remains the final hurdle.

Amorim, who was foreign minister during the two terms Lula was in office between 2003 and 2010, said Congress will have the final say but that Lula will make every effort to ensure Bolivia is brought into the Mercosur fold.

“I don’t have the slightest doubt that Lula will make that effort. It’s very important for Bolivia and for us,” Amorim said in remarks to reporters.

Bolivia’s incorporation as a full member will facilitate contacts with the Andean Community (CAN), the diplomat said, insisting that latter organization – whose full members are Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia – is “being strengthened.”

“There was a meeting in Peru and there’s talk about the entrance of Argentina and the return of Chile and Venezuela” to CAN, Amorim said.

Chile would be returning to the CAN, a free-trade area, for the first time since 1976, while Venezuela withdrew in 2006 due to disagreements over free-trade deals that Colombia and Peru had signed with the United States.

Besides discussing South American integration, Lula and Arce addressed a range of bilateral economic matters.

Those topics included “potential infrastructure investment,” the “question of (natural) gas,” which Brazil imports from the Andean nation, and participation in industrial projects and cooperation in the development of lithium, a light metal abundant in Bolivia that is used in rechargeable batteries for mobile phones, laptops, digital cameras and electric vehicles.

The chairman of Brazil’s left-wing Workers’ Party (PT) and the Bolivian president also shared their experience with programs to combat hunger and other social initiatives and discussed the need for Amazon conservation.

Lula has a more than 10-percentage-point lead over rightist Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro with less than a month remaining before the first round of balloting.

If necessary, a runoff between the two top two finishers in the first round will be held on Oct. 30. EFE


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