Brazil’s Lula Seeks to Patch Up Tattered Relations With Argentina’s Milei

(Bloomberg) -- Brazil leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva expressed willingness to overcome political differences with Argentine President-elect Javier Milei, as he seeks to preserve ties between the neighboring nations despite tensions between them.

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“We are going to have political problems in South America, but instead of complaining about it we have to be intelligent and try to solve them, try to talk and try to converge democratically in adversity,” Lula said Tuesday, during an event at Brazil’s foreign affairs ministry.

“I don’t need to be friends with the president of Chile, Argentina, Venezuela,” he said. “They also don’t have to be my friends. They have to be presidents of their country and I of mine.”

Milei’s overwhelming victory in Sunday’s election cast doubt on Argentina’s relations with its neighbor, after the libertarian promised to stop doing business with Brazil and other nations he considers “socialist” during his campaign. Lula — a longtime ally of Argentina’s Peronist governments — backed Milei’s opponent in the race, and a team of his advisers worked for Economy Minister Sergio Massa’s campaign.

The comments offered the latest indication that Lula wants to avoid a relapse in the relationship, which has renewed since he took office in January after largely freezing amid disagreements between right-wing former Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro and outgoing Argentine leader Alberto Fernandez.

“We need to have policies between the Brazilian state and his state, we have to sit at the table, each defending their interests,” he said at the event. “We can’t have supremacy over each other. We have to reach an agreement, that’s the art of democracy.”

The leftist leader wished “luck and success” to Milei in a Sunday social media post that emphasized his willingness to work with the new government, although he didn’t mention the president-elect by name.

But for now, that is as far as Lula is willing to go, as he bets that Milei will ultimately seek to maintain a relationship with a major trading partner, according to administration officials with knowledge of his strategy. Lula is waiting for the new Argentine government to reach out through institutional channels before deciding how to proceed, the officials said.

Read More: Lula Gives Milei the Cold Shoulder on Bet He’ll Need Brazil

Lula, who has sought to strengthen regional trade and economic ties since returning to office, is also pushing forward with plans that Milei’s victory have made less certain.

On Monday, he and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen discussed ongoing efforts to finish an elusive trade agreement between the European Union and Mercosur — a South American bloc made up of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay that Milei pledged to abandon during his campaign.

He also held recent talks about the deal with Spain Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, whose nation currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU. Lula wants to finalize the agreement before Brazil’s term as Mercosur’s president ends on Dec. 7, he said during a weekly broadcast earlier on Tuesday.

(Updates with details on Mercosur trade talks and additional context)

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