Falklands lawmaker seeks greater Lat-Am trade ties

5th September 2013, Comments 0 comments

A Falklands lawmaker was in Uruguay on Thursday to bolster trade ties he hopes will provide a bulwark against Argentina's claims of sovereignty over the disputed islands.

Dick Sawle, a member of the Falklands' legislative assembly, arrived over weekend for meetings with local business and political leaders.

"The goal is to let them know that we are open for business," said Sawle, who was to return to the Falklands on Friday.

"We have had a good economy thanks to the fishing industry, but now we have found oil," he told AFP, providing even greater trade ties.

The Falklands, a remote but disputed group of islands, was the object of a brief but bloody war between Britain and Argentina in 1982.

Tensions over the islands have heated up over the past year, the 30th anniversary of the conflict, intensified in part by British moves to open waters around the Falklands to oil exploration.

Britain has insisted that it will not discuss sovereignty as long as the 3,000 people on the wind-swept islands want to remain under the British flag.

In March, Falkland Islanders voted 99.8 percent to remain a British territory, but Argentina rejected the vote and Kirchner has repeatedly staked its claim.

Sawle said he hopes outside investment by Uruguay and other Latin American nations will provide international political leverage to help Falklanders push back against Argentina's demands for return of the archipelago to Buenos Aires.

Uruguay sells about a half million dollars in goods -- mostly in food products like rice, flour and olive oil -- to the Falklands each year, Sawle said he'd like to see more robust trade with its neighbors in the region.

At present, Britain accounts for 89 percent of imports to the Falklands, while just six percent is with Chile and four percent with Uruguay.

Sawle said Falklanders have become leery about the "very aggressive" policies of President Cristina Kirchner, who in recent months has become more vocal in pressing for the return of the Falklands to Buenos Aires.

"We can't solve that in the short run," he told AFP.

"What we can do is talk to our neighbors in the area of trade," said the lawmaker, who said he hopes to make a follow up visit in October with other Falklands lawmakers, and is planning similar outreach to other Latin American business leaders.

© 2013 AFP

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