A free-trade agreement between Uruguay and China would destroy Mercosur by contradicting the bloc's integration policies, Brazilian Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira said in an interview published Sunday in the Folha de São Paulo newspaper.
Vieira was alluding to the Uruguayan government's announcement in July that it had taken the first steps to negotiate a bilateral treaty with the Asian giant, which generated disagreements with Mercosur partners.
"If you negotiate outside the Common External Tariff, you destroy the tariff. Destroying Mercosur is in nobody's interest," the foreign minister told the newspaper.
"If they negotiate with different, lower tariffs, what enters cheaper in that country will circulate in the others, because of the free circulation [of goods]," the foreign minister said, opposing the push to make the bloc's rules more flexibile.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will visit Uruguay on Wednesday on his first international tour, which begins on Sunday with a visit to Argentina, where the seventh summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) will be held on Tuesday.
Lula will leave for Buenos Aires in a bid to restore Brazil's regional prominence and strengthen South American integration mechanisms, such as Mercosur, following the administration of far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro.
The bloc, founded in 1991, is going through a crisis, amid tensions between partners and initiatives to make it more flexible, supported by Bolsonaro.
"Mercosur is not the same as when it was created. We have to look at the needs of each country and the asymmetries that exist, and see if some kind of concession can be made," the Brazilian minister told Folha.
The Common External Tariff (CET) to which Vieira referred has had multiple exceptions, such as those applied unilaterally by Argentina and Brazil.
"We have to talk to Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay about the present and future of Mercosur (...) and make the necessary adjustments in dialogue with the businessmen of our countries," Vieira told the Argentine news agency Télam on Saturday.
The strong differences within the bloc were evident at the last Mercosur summit, held in December in Montevideo.
In particular, the partners reproached the Uruguayan government for launching negotiations with China without their consent, as required by the group's rules.
On the other hand, Vieira referred to the agreement that Mercosur has been seeking to concretise with the European Union for more than two decades: "We are carrying out internal analyses (...) with the Mercosur countries, and then we will resume talks with the European Union. If the analysis is positive, we will move forward."
Lula has said the agreement is not valid and that he hopes to discuss a version that respects "Brazil's desires," and that does not force it to renounce "re-industrialisation."