By: Peter Tase, Guest Scholar at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs
Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes has prioritized efforts to link Paraguay closer to the Asia-Pacific countries as a major component of his overall strategic objective. Despite this prioritization, the country’s foreign ministry has made few concrete steps towards reaching out to grasp President Cartes’ aspiration. Asunción’s meager assets certainly make the goal challenging, but the country’s Foreign Ministry has failed to explore several options, particularly improved bilateral relations with Bolivia.
Paraguay faces the fundamental challenge of an unfavorable geographic position. Along with Bolivia, it is one of the two landlocked countries of South America. This geographic limitation has forced Asunción to resort to political pressure and regional foreign policy management to build global economic connections. The Bolivian border holds unexplored potential for Paraguayan exports and economic growth. La Paz could provide a pathway for Paraguay’s agricultural products to gain access to all of the markets in the Andean region, as well as the ten member countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), where Paraguayan products are in high demand. Establishing closer ties with Bolivia would help Paraguay avoid its normally troubled trade routes through Argentina, which often have proved to be problematic and have caused a great deal of frustration of Paraguayan trade ambitions. Paraguayan export-import companies whose shipments pass through Argentinean territory are subject to extensive searches by border patrol and are often delayed by port authorities in Buenos Aires.  Despite the improvements in trade, poverty levels, and economic integration that a shift toward Bolivia would bring, some critics maintain that the Paraguayan Foreign Ministry has done little to increase trade relations with La Paz.