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Hague seeks to renew Britain's South America links

Jan. 19, 2012 at 8:16 AM   |   Comments

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RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- British Foreign Secretary William Hague, in Brazil for a quick diplomatic visit, is hoping to rebuild bridges abandoned during preoccupations elsewhere but critics say he has a tough task ahead.

After nearly a decade of relative regional neglect, Britain's stock visibly has fallen in the area with Falklands rival Argentina winning friends who haven't shied from pronouncing support for Buenos Aires' claim on the South Atlantic islands, a British overseas territory.

Traditionally friendly Uruguay routinely snubs British navy ships and, in solidarity with Argentina, continues to bar Falklands shipping from its ports despite losses to its own coastal economy.

Support for Argentina over the Falklands is regularly voiced at regional forums of the Union of South American Nations, Mercosur regional economic and trade community and other Latin American economic and political organizations.

Junta-ruled Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982 but was repulsed by British forces in a 74-day conflict that led to the deaths of about 1,000 military personnel and civilians.

Argentina tore up the formal surrender document soon afterward and renewed its claim on the Falklands, which is roughly based on arguments over who got there first. Argentina says its sovereignty over Falklands predates Britain's but London argues Argentina at the time was part of the Spanish empire.

Argentina intensified its sovereignty claim after British-backed oil exploration began to produce encouraging results.

Hague said he was hopeful of a strategic dialogue in Brazil but didn't make clear if that could go beyond business and scientific collaboration and trade into the political arena.

Argentina and its Latin allies increasingly go unchallenged at regional forums where British rule over the Falklands is branded anachronistic and a vestige of colonialism. But there was little British intervention in the past few years and the Argentine campaign gained momentum.

Hague is the first British foreign minister to visit Brazil in six years.

Despite the awkward lack of concord on the Falklands, Brazil looks to Britain foremost for sharing technology in both civilian and defense industries. Brazil also hopes to garner support for its claim to a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

But Brazil, like fellow negotiator Turkey, is miffed that its mediation between Iran and the United States didn't receive the attention and support that it expected. Brazil and Turkey negotiated a deal over Iran's nuclear program that both governments say could have defused the crisis over Iran.

Britain is also interested in attracting a good proportion of more than 100,000 Brazilian science students who are likely to be studying at universities abroad under the Science without Borders program.

Bilateral trade in 2011 totaled $8.57 billion, up 10.21 percent over 2010. Brazilian exports to Britain increased 12.4 percent to reach $5.2 billion.

British investments in Brazil increased $8.4 billion over the last decade, making the United Kingdom the sixth largest investor in the country.
At the same the shifting balance of trade and global influence was reflected when Brazil overtook Britain as the world's sixth largest economy.

However, the shift was largely due to Brazil's high taxation and an upsurge in its exploitation of natural resources. A huge underclass of poor and malnourished, seen to be slowly decreasing, is high on the reform agenda of President Dilma Rousseff.

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