Pulp mills conflict: Finish minister cancels Argentine visit


Abril de 2006

The Argentine/Uruguayan conflict over the building of pulp mills in Uruguay has had a further impact, this time in Finland which announced the cancelling of one of its ministers’ visit to Buenos Aires.

Foreign Trade and Development Minister Paula Lehtomaki was scheduled to visit Argentina next week but “unfortunately lately there’s a feeling that the visitor is not welcome”, said an official Finnish release.

The visit was programmed long time ago with the purpose of “a wide development of economic relations” between Finland and Argentina but following President Nestor Kirchner’s statements claiming Finland is not collaborating in solving the pulp mills conflict, the stop in Buenos Aires was cancelled.

President Kirchner accused Finland of not being helpful since Finnish company Botnia was refusing to suspend construction of the pulp mill for 90 days, period during which an environmental impact assessment would be elaborated, as requested by Argentina.

“The positive purposes of the visit are in danger overshadowed by the Argentine/Uruguay pulp mills disagreement, a controversy in which the government of Finland is not one of the sides involved”, insisted the Helsinki’s government.

However Minister Lehtomaki will be visiting as was programmed, Chile, Peru and Uruguay, to promote economic relations, trade and investments. The Finnish official is scheduled to visit the Botnia pulp mill plant under construction in Fray Bentos by the river Uruguay, --shared and jointly managed with Argentina--, which has become the heart of the controversy between the neighbouring countries.

In Montevideo a spokesperson for Botnia said construction of the pulp mill will continue and Argentina’s request suspension was described as “unfounded” and “not justified” since the plant is abiding by the most advanced technological and environmental standards.
Any paralysation of the construction would cause “serious damages” not only to the company, which has contracts to honour, but also to the Uruguayan economy and the 2.000 plus workers at the plant. Besides the environmental impact assessment report “can be completed with the pulp mill functioning”.
However Botnia believes in “dialogue” and will be handing all the information required by the Argentine government as construction advances. “We have no contacts with the Argentine government but there’s a fluid exchange with Finland’s representatives both in Buenos Aires and Montevideo”.

Earlier in the day Argentine Ambassador in Uruguay Hernan Patiño Mayer insisted that “Botnia will have to reply to Argentina’s request”, and blamed the Finnish company for the current bilateral confidence crisis.
“We insist there’s a confidence crisis born out of the company’s attitudes which does not seem to understand that a shared resource, water, is involved in the industry” said Patiño Mayer in direct reference to the waters of the shared river Uruguay.

“Argentina’s request is not a whim, because the resources involved are not only Uruguayan, but Uruguayan and Argentine”, underlined the Ambassador.
“Botnia is part of the problem” said Patiño Mayer but it must also be “part of the solution; therefore I insist the company will have to answer to the request and dialogue with the Argentine government.