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Uruguay rep headed to UN to chair Security Council

By Kristen Shane      

After almost 40 years as a diplomat, ‘like the proverbial cherry on top of the cake.’

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After an almost 40-year career in the foreign service, Uruguayan Ambassador Elbio Rosselli is likely to finish off his career at the top of the multilateral food chain chairing the Security Council.

He’s set to leave his Canadian posting, after five years, in the first couple weeks of December to head his country’s permanent mission to the United Nations in New York.

It will be his second go at the job, having held the UN post between 2006 and 2008. But this time will bring a new challenge: Uruguay will become a non-permanent member of the Security Council for 2016-17, and it “drew the lucky number” of chairing the council at the same time it joins, said Mr. Rosselli. That means in some cases (if a Uruguayan cabinet minister or president isn’t in town) he will be chairing council meetings.

“On a personal level, it’s an incredible challenge,” said the ambassador in an interview in his downtown Ottawa office on Nov. 13.

It's likely to be his last assignment.

“This is a little bit like the proverbial cherry on top of the cake,” he said, career-wise.

“And the Security Council, whatever its failings or successes, is at the top of the international multilateral system as a main keeper or custodian of peace and security,” he said.

Though he’s likely to drive down to New York, he expects not to be out of Canada that long.

This is his second posting as Uruguay’s ambassador to Canada. At the end of his first, from 1993 to 1998, his daughter stayed behind. She was already in love with her current Canadian husband, said the ambassador. They now have a son, and live in Ottawa.

“So we have a Canadian grandson. So, as you can see, we will be going away from Canada, but I don’t think we will ever be leaving Canada,” said Mr. Rosselli.

To a stranger, it’s easy to see his decade on Canadian soil has left him fully steeped in the ways of the Great White North. He speaks with barely a hint of an accent and at one point refers to Mafalda, a comic strip popular in Latin America, as “sort of an Argentinean version of Peanuts.”

Canada’s ties with Uruguay, a small country both geographically and by population (it’s only home to about 3.3 million people) have been good throughout, he said.

“I’ve always said that the major problem with Canada is that we don’t have any problems,” he said with a chuckle. “The saying about the squeaky wheel getting all the oil, well my wheels don’t squeak.”

In all seriousness, he adds, Uruguay and Canada have excellent relations, sharing common values such as democracy and human rights.

Though they see eye to eye on almost all issues, one irritant has been Canada’s supply management system for some agricultural products in the dairy and poultry sectors. The system often means foreign exporters have to pay high tariffs to get their product into the country.

Uruguay exports agricultural products heavily protected in Canada, said the ambassador. It would love to have more of its butter and cheese on Canadian store shelves.

Two-way trade doesn’t amount to much, even by Uruguay’s standards. It hovers around $100 million to $200 million per year.

The two had once mulled a trade deal, alongside other countries in the Latin American trade bloc MERCOSUR, but the talks have tumbled in priority on both sides. Canada is much more concerned with larger deals with the European Union and Pacific Rim countries now.

One area where collaboration between Canada and Uruguay is flourishing is in science, technology and innovation, especially in agriculture, Mr. Rosselli indicated. Their institutions are co-operating including government-associated bodies and universities. Uruguay, though small, has relatively well educated people, abundant farmland and cattle, but few mineral resources.

As the ambassador leaves, he is seeing a new government in Canada settle in.

“As you know, it has been said that in the last few years Canada adopted policies and views which were not the ‘traditional’ approach of Canada to international affairs. So there’s great expectations in the administration of [Prime Minister Justin]Trudeau and the work that [Foreign Minister Stéphane]Dion will bring on to Global Affairs Canada,” said the ambassador.

The name change itself, from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, is promising, he said on Nov. 13.

“The holistic view of global affairs rather than just foreign affairs,” he noted, is a nicer way of framing things.

It’s unclear who Uruguay’s next ambassador to Canada will be, but Chargé d’Affaires Trilce Gervaz will run the small office in the interim.



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