The president of Bolivia, Luis Arce, expressed confidence that his country’s formal accession to the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) will be confirmed soon thanks to the efforts of his Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, according to an exclusive interview with Sputnik last Wednesday, July 5.
“Comrade Lula has committed himself to take the necessary steps to achieve this goal, so we are confident that he can push this forward as quickly as possible, and that Bolivia will once and for all become an official and formal part of Mercosur,” Arce announced, during the 62nd Summit of Heads of State of MERCOSUR and Associated States, held in the Iguazú National Park, in the north-eastern Argentinian province of Misiones.
In the midst of the process of joining the trade bloc that unites Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela (which has currently suspended), the Bolivian president noted his approval of the speech given by President Lula during the plenary session of the summit, in which Arce participated as a dignitary of a Mercosur-associated country.
“We are very happy with the presentation made by comrade Lula,” Arce stated, “who has promised to make every effort on our behalf in campaigning before the Brazilian Parliament, since all that is missing is its approval for Bolivia to become part of Mercosur.”
Once this obstacle is overcome, Bolivia will have access to “a large market” that offers “many trade options; fundamentally, with countries with which there is already trade,” added the Bolivian head of state. “There are investment opportunities among the member countries, and above all, the opening of markets, which is very important for Bolivian production.”
In particular, the Andean leader highlighted the relevance of the Brazilian market, which has “a fairly large population, together with that of Argentina.” There are existing bilateral treaties signed between the states, “but with this [formal entry into Mercosur], we can really strengthen ourselves in terms of market expansion, and enjoy tariffs and benefits that we do not currently enjoy,” Arce explained.
Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay have already ratified Bolivia’s protocol of accession as a full member of Mercosur—a document that the Andean country signed in July 2015—but to confirm its entry into the bloc, it requires the endorsement of the Brazilian Senate, which has been under the control of conservative parties.
Bolivia open for international investment
“We are open to Russian investments coming to our country, not only from Russia, but from all countries,” Arce stated, elaborating that his country has been open “to receive all types of capital,” during his participation in the summit.
“The only thing we ask,” he noted, “is that our Constitution, our regulations, which are quite conservative in terms of the distribution of profits from the industrial exploitation of natural resources, be respected.” The president gave the example of eight foreign companies that were selected to extract lithium, and which accepted the country’s own intervention in both the production and commercialization processes involved.
“Eight companies have presented themselves so far,” Arce explained, “and have competed since last year to reach an agreement with Bolivia, in a Bolivian business plan, where Bolivia participates in the entire production chain, including the marketing process.”
The Bolivian leader emphasized that the eight companies “have accepted these conditions of the Bolivian business model, and of course, having confirmed their desire to participate in the chain, all that remains is the signing of the contract and the [beginning of] operation.”
For Bolivia—the country with the largest lithium reserves in the world, estimated at 21 million tons—the first positive impact possible of the exploitation of this mineral will be the diversification of its export.
“We are gas producers, and in a few months we are going to inaugurate our steel and iron plant in Mutún [in the south-eastern department of Santa Cruz], where we are making smelters,” Arce said. The government is also preparing to industrialize “zinc and other minerals in Bolivia,” he added. “That’s why we say we are the government of industrialization.”
The President further stated that “as of 2025,” the country will have “a broad [productive] base, with several products, not just one,” adding that they “will not be monoproducers; [Bolivia] will be industrializers of all our minerals and natural products.”
“Several companies that have signed up for the production of lithium batteries in Bolivia have shown their interest in establishing some vehicle assembly plants,” the head of state did note in parallel. “They have shown us their predisposition, but first, of course, we have to close the lithium issue.”
Exports of lithium batteries
“As of 2025, according to our estimates, Bolivia will already be exporting, and will already be receiving large revenues from the commercialization of lithium batteries,” said President Arce. “We are going to extract lithium in battery mode, and we are going to participate in the commercialization of batteries worldwide, together with the companies with which we have signed agreements.”
According to Arce’s words, the eight companies that have so far been presented have been bidding since 2022 to reach an agreement with Bolivia, and have accepted the conditions “of the Bolivian business model,” these companies being “from several [different] countries.”
Therefore, “in the coming months, Bolivia will receive close to $2.8 billion in investment,” Arce noted. On June 29, the state-owned company Yacimientos de Litio Bolivianos (YLB) signed two agreements: the first with the company Uranium One, belonging to the Russian state corporation Rosatom, and the second with Citic Guoan, under the control of China’s Citic Group.
In addition to these two projects, an agreement was signed “in January of this year with CBC, a Chinese company, the number one in the world,” according to the head of state. In short, “there are three companies with which we have already signed agreements to start up, after a selection process that we have opened to all the companies that want to participate,” the president elaborated.
“We have, with our own state company, YLB, a task of also competing with foreign companies; that is going to be the work that will be done,” he said, explaining that in this way, “there will be four companies, three external and one Bolivian, operating in the three salt flats [in Bolivia],” one of which is located in Ecopaisa, in the western department of Oruro, and the other two in Uyuni and Pastos Grandes, in the south-western department of Potosí.
“They are different qualities of lithium, each one of them, and these three external companies, plus YLB, are going to operate in the three areas,” Arce added. Bolivia is part of the “lithium triangle,” together with Argentina, whose reserves are estimated at 19 million tons, and Chile, which has another 9 million tons of the mineral, first discovered in 1817, which is the lightest in the periodic table.
A measure against the secretary general of the OAS
The government of Bolivia is filing a complaint against the secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, for inciting the coup d’état suffered by the Andean country in 2019, President Arce confirmed. “We are more than unhappy with what Mr. Almagro is doing in the OAS,” he stated, “so our ambassador [to the OAS], Héctor Arce, has instructions to take all necessary actions.”
After participating in the plenary that brought together his peers from Argentina, Alberto Fernández, Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Paraguay, Mario Abdo, and Uruguay, Luis Lacalle Pou, Arce voiced his dissatisfaction with the work of the head of the OAS. In 2019, Almagro pushed for an audit of the presidential elections won by former president Evo Morales, the preliminary results of which implied alleged irregularities, later proven false.
This aggravated the political and social situation in Bolivia, with protests, marches, street clashes and police rebellion, which led to the former head of state being forced to resign and take refuge in Argentina, while Jeanine Áñez declared herself as de facto head of state, bypassing all constitutional norms, and was sentenced in 2022 to ten years in prison for inciting the coup d’état.
Translation: Orinoco Tribune
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