On the morning of February 16, after welcoming President Mario Abdo Benítez of the Republic of Paraguay and First Lady Silvana López Moreira de Abdo with military honors, President Tsai Ing-wen, accompanied by Vice President Lai Ching-te, joined President Abdo Benítez for bilateral talks and to witness the signing of a bilateral agreement for the training and exchange of diplomatic personnel. In remarks, President Tsai thanked President Abdo Benítez for speaking out numerous times on the global stage in support of Taiwan's international participation, and hoped that Taiwan and Paraguay will further deepen our cooperation and become partners over a broader range of areas, thus further contributing to the progress and development of the world.
A translation of President Tsai's remarks follows:
Let me begin by offering a warm welcome to the visiting delegation led by President Abdo Benítez and First Lady López Moreira, and to our distinguished guests, including Minister of Foreign Affairs Julio César Arriola and Minister of Industry and Commerce Luis Castiglioni, both good friends who have also previously visited Taiwan. Today, I am delighted to receive them once again.
Beginning in 2021, to overcome the challenges of the pandemic together, Taiwan and Paraguay jointly implemented a program to assist Latin America and the Caribbean by promoting economic recovery and women's empowerment. That program has already helped over 1,000 Paraguayan women obtain the vocational training and seed funding they need to start businesses.
Yesterday, I also attended the Empower Women! Empower LAC! Forum together with the president and first lady. I am very grateful to both of them for sharing Paraguay's experiences in their remarks at the opening ceremony and during forum discussions, providing us with valuable suggestions. In a few minutes, we will witness the signing of a bilateral agreement on the training and exchange of diplomatic personnel. We look forward to further deepening the cooperation between our countries and becoming partners over a broader range of areas.
I want to take this opportunity to extend a special thanks to President Abdo Benítez for speaking out numerous times on the global stage in support of Taiwan's international participation. I also want to thank Foreign Minister Arriola and other senior government officials for voicing their support for Taiwan in various ways. Taiwan and Paraguay, working together, can make even greater contributions to the world. Just as President Abdo Benítez once said, quoting Pope Francis, "We are all in the same boat and called to work together so that there will be no more walls that separate us." We believe that no matter what global challenge we face, whether it is a pandemic, climate change, or growing authoritarianism, we must come together in solidarity to pursue the greatest well-being for humankind.
At the beginning of the new year, as we welcome the visiting delegation led by President Abdo Benítez and First Lady López Moreira, we hope that Taiwan and Paraguay will further deepen our cooperation moving forward and achieve even more to benefit the progress and development of both our countries and the world.
President Abdo Benítez then delivered remarks, saying that Taiwan is friendly not only to him, but to the people of Paraguay as well. He said that this visit to Taiwan, while demonstrating the close, friendly relations between our peoples and governments, also gives our countries the opportunity to deepen bilateral relations, work in closer cooperation, and exchange our views.
President Abdo Benítez stated that Taiwan is more than an important ally, it is a strategic partner, of Paraguay; and that the partnership between our countries is more than one built on an opportunity presented by global circumstances, it is a partnership founded on our shared values of freedom, democracy, and longstanding, mutual cooperation.
President Abdo Benítez pointed out that the countries of the world ought to work together, without excluding anyone in the process, as they face the world's various challenges by upholding universal values. He added that as Taiwan itself faces global challenges, it can share and contribute its own valuable experiences; and he expressed his belief that just as Taiwan needs the world, the world needs Taiwan.
President Abdo Benítez noted that Paraguay witnessed, and was one of the countries to benefit from, the assistance Taiwan provided in difficult times. One such example, he explained, was during COVID-19, and he thanked our government for its assistance, noting that our countries helped each other to weather the pandemic. He added that Paraguay is one of the countries of Latin America with the lowest decreases in economic growth, explaining that the dip in economic growth for Latin America overall was 7.4 percent, while that for Paraguay was only 0.8 percent. He stated that such results were only possible through the aid provided by Taiwan, and that such aid made it possible for Paraguay to withstand the pandemic.
President Abdo Benítez thanked Taiwan for implementing the "Assisting the Economic Empowerment of Women in Latin America and the Caribbean in the Post COVID-19 Era" Project. He emphasized that women, already vulnerable, suffered deeply from the pandemic; though now, Paraguay can be pointed to as having the highest employment rate in the Mercosur.
President Abdo Benítez underlined that, as we face the world's challenges together, he reaffirms Paraguay's steadfast promise and support for Taiwan's participation in multilateral organizations. Moreover, he indicated, the volume of trade between our two countries has more than tripled, due to our mutual assistance and integration on the economic front and supported by the cooperation and effort of our governments. Such substantial results, he noted, suggest that our mutual support is more than just words; rather, it consists of concrete actions that have led to greater well-being for both our peoples.
President Abdo Benítez pointed out that the several elements of our bilateral economic cooperation agreement signed in 2018 are already progressing smoothly, and have helped Paraguay achieve policy goals and national development. The president provided an example, noting that in the history of Paraguay, it is under his government that the most civilian housing was built.
President Abdo Benítez also remarked that during this visit he participated in a promotion and investment event for Paraguayan meat products, where he introduced Paraguay's favorable investment environment and explained the incentives available to Taiwanese businesses. Thanks to the concerted efforts of both countries, he noted, Taiwan has become Paraguay's fourth-largest customer of its beef products. He expressed his pleasure at seeing a significant increase in 2022 in Taiwan's purchases of Paraguayan beef products, rising from US$35 million when he first took office [in 2018] to over US$204 million. And noting that this year's first shipment of pork imported from Paraguay has already entered the Taiwan market, he expressed that he is happy with the roll-out of the program and conveyed his thanks.
Although this is the last time he will visit Taiwan as head of state, President Abdo Benítez reaffirmed his unwavering support for Taiwan, saying that in the future, whether as president or former president, he will always be Taiwan's most committed friend.
After the conclusion of bilateral talks, President Tsai and President Abdo Benítez jointly witnessed Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (???) and Paraguay Minister of Foreign Affairs Arriola sign a bilateral agreement between Taiwan and Paraguay for the training and exchange of diplomatic personnel.
The delegation was accompanied to the Presidential Office by Paraguay Ambassador Carlos José Fleitas Rodríguez.