Large numbers of Swiss people emigrated to Uruguay in the mid-nineteenth century where they mainly worked in farming, contributing to the economic development of the country. Today around 50,000 citizens of Uruguay, or roughly two per cent of the population, have Swiss roots. Because of the country's size, prosperity and political system, Uruguay is known to this day as the Switzerland of South America.
This unusual closeness between two geographically distant countries was one of the topics raised by Mr Burkhalter in his talks with his Uruguayan counterpart, Mr Nin Novoa. The recent talks in Montevideo are the first time a member of the Federal Council has paid a working visit to Uruguay. The focus of the meeting was on strengthening cooperation between the two countries. Uruguay works closely with Switzerland at the UN Human Rights Council and is currently a member of the UN Security Council. It also takes the same position as Switzerland on such issues as UN reform and environmental matters. Both countries plan to step up cooperation at the multilateral level. To this end the two foreign ministers signed a memorandum of understanding stipulating regular high-level diplomatic contact. They also talked about the Swiss initiative for closer cooperation between the UN Human Rights Council and UN Security Council and potential new areas for bilateral cooperation such as peacebuilding. The talks were also an opportunity to discuss a variety of topics including migration, vocational education and training, and the effects of climate change.
Cooperation in natural disaster prevention and response
The topic of cooperation in natural disaster prevention and response was raised during Mr Burkhalter's morning visit to the town of Nueva Helvecia, which was also hit by the severe storms in April 2016. Nueva Helvecia is home to numerous descendants of Swiss immigrants. During his visit, Mr Burkhalter helped lay the foundation stone of a building that will provide shelter to people during natural disasters in future. Swiss Humanitarian Aid, as well as partners of Nueva Helvecia, the cantons of Fribourg and Ticino, and the Ticinese commune of Quinto helped fund relief efforts in response to the storms that swept the country in April.
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