Lasso blasts Correa’s ‘secret deals,’ says trade and debt negotiations with China will be public
In his first interview since returning from China, President Guillermo Lasso pledged that the details of negotiations with Beijing on trade and debt restructuring will be made public.
“Information of all our talks with China will be made available to all Ecuadorians,” Lasso said Wednesday in Quito. “This was one of my conditions with President Xi Jinping and he did not have a problem with it. Negotiations will be conducted on behalf of the Ecuadorian people and they have a right to know what we are discussing and what we are agreeing to.”
According to Lasso, previous negotiations and agreements with China, including one that mandated that debts to Chinese banks be paid in oil shipments, were kept secret. “It was a dark moment for the country when [former president] Correa prohibited publication of the agreement he made to secure loans. We know now what he was hiding and this will not happen again.”
He added that former president Lenin Moreno also kept information from the public in his loan agreements with China.
Lasso did not offer details of the “improprieties” of Correa’s and Moreno’s loan agreement but said he is turning over records to the Attorney General’s office for possible prosecution. “I can’t say more about the matter at this time but details will become available as the investigation proceeds,” he said.
In response to a question about free trade talks expected to be completed by the end of the year, Lasso said that some industries will be protected. “I understand that some sectors of our economy could be hurt by an open agreement and those will not be part of the agreement and I’m sure that China will want to offer protections to some of its native industries as well,” he said. He said that textile and shoe manufacturing as well as some artesanal trades will be protected.
In discussions to restructure Ecuador’s $4.6 billion debt, Lasso said that Xi Jinping and Chinese bank officials are open to de-coupling payments from oil shipments. “We explained that Ecuador’s economy needs a break from a bad deal, particularly as we recover from the pandemic. We need to extend the term of the debt and have a more favorable interest rate,” he said. “Under the secret deals signed with the past governments there were intermediaries who took advantage of the situation and that will not be allowed under a new agreement.”
He added that he does not plan to ask China for additional loans.
On a question of the shortage of medicine and medical supplies in Ecuador’s public and Social Security hospitals, Lasso said recent deliveries are beginning to solve the problem. “In December, we purchased a large batch of medicine and delivered these to the hospitals,” he said. “I am particularly concerned about the shortage of medicine for people suffering catastrophic illnesses. We are working on a new delivery system and hope to have it up and running in March.”
He added: “In making changes to our procurement process for medicine we are having to fight corruption that has existed for years within the system. We have made some arrests and expect to make more in the coming months.”