Britain and Argentina have announced they will lift restrictions on several industries around the disputed Falkland Islands. However, the UK says there was no question of debating the issue of sovereignty.
In a rare moment of agreement between the two countries, Britain and Argentina on Wednesday said they would "remove all obstacles limiting the economic growth and sustainable development" of the islands, including restrictions on trade, fishing, shipping and the oil industry.
Argentina lost a 1982 war with Britain after Argentine troops seized the islands. Sovereignty was hotly contested before and after the conflict, with tensions having flared when an Argentine judge ordered the seizure of assets owned by drillers looking for mineral and oil wealth in the Falklands area.
Under the previous 12 years of leftist government, Argentina restricted hydrocarbon exploration in the zone.
There was also an agreement to increase the number of flights between Argentina and the Falklands, which lie some 300 miles (485 kilometers) off the coast of Patagonia.
"In a positive spirit, both sides agreed to set up a dialogue to improve cooperation on South Atlantic issues of mutual interest," said a joint communiqué by both countries.
'More productive' relations
The document was drawn up after a series of meetings in Buenos Aires between Argentina's President Mauricio Macri, Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra and Alan Duncan, Britain's minister of state for Europe and the Americas.
British Prime Minister Theresa May, who took office in July, called for "more productive" relations between the two countries in her letter to pro-business President Macri. Macri has also indicated he wants a less confrontational approach to Britain than his predecessor, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
"The UK and Argentina have a broad relationship that goes beyond our differences," Duncan said in a statement.
'First positive statements in years'
"It's clear to me that Argentina is open for business," Duncan said. "The measures agreed today demonstrate we can make progress through dialogue." Britain said it was "the first positive statement on South Atlantic issues since 1999."
The Falklands are inhabited by about 3,000 people, with the overwhelming majority saying they wish the archipelago to remain a British overseas territory. Argentina rejects the argument and accuses Britain of deliberately settling people there since occupying the island in 1833, to bolster its sovereignty claim.
Both sides agreed to increase the number of flights to the Falklands from Argentina, possibly via third countries. At present, a Chilean airline flies from Santiago to the Falklands every Saturday via the southern Chilean city of Punta Arenas. Once a month, the flight also stops in Argentina.
rc/kl (AP, Reuters)