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LATIN AMERICA | 24-04-2024 15:36

Mercosur free-trade deal is ‘absolute priority’ for the EU, says chief negotiator

Rupert Schlegelmilch, the EU’s chief negotiator for a free-trade deal with Mercosur bloc, says he is hoping to close this deal “as soon as possible,” pinpointing “June or July” as a possible date.

A free-trade agreement with the Mercosur bloc is an “absolute priority” for the European Union, the chief negotiators from Brussels said Tuesday.

Contrary to scepticism over the long-stalled deal, Rupert Schlegelmilch, the EU’s chief negotiator for a free-trade deal with the South American bloc, said he is hoping to close this deal “as soon as possible”.

“Regardless of the circumstances, this agreement has remained a priority for us. It’s an absolute priority,” said Schlegelmilch as he kicked off a South American tour in Uruguay.

The FTA, which would eliminate most tariffs between the regions, creating a market of over 700 million consumers accounting for a quarter of the world’s GDP, has been discussed for 25 years but remains stalled.

“We’re running a marathon and we’re at the last 100-metre stretch. But it’s an obstacle course and to finish it we have to make one great final effort,” Schlegelmilch stated at a European business gathering in Montevideo.

“This trip is an effort in that direction,” the diplomat added, who in addition to the Uruguayan capital will visit Asunción, Buenos Aires, São Paulo and Brasília.

The 27 EU member states and Mercosur’s founding members (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) closed a political agreement in 2019 for a free-trade deal after two decades of complex negotiations. 

Since then, following strong pushback from the German industrial sector and especially French farmers and European agricultural producers, its terms have yet to be adopted, amid discrepancies often centred on environmental concerns and the protection of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.

“We’re discussing with Mercosur countries the commitments on deforestation. That is a very sensitive issue in Europe,” Schlegelmilch told reporters.

During a visit to Brazil in late March, French President Emmanuel Macron dismissed the agreement being discussed as “very bad.” He proposed the two parties come together to agree “a new one.”

Schlegelmilch said conversations with Brazil “have progressed but are not over,” and thanked the pragmatic stance of his hosts in negotiations. 

He described Argentina, under new President Javier Milei’s government, a “constructive” partner.

Consulted as to when he expects to close talks over the FTA, the EU negotiator said “as soon as possible.” He ventured it could happen as early as “in June or July.”

Nevertheless, the final accord would still have to be approved by the parliaments of member states on both sides of the Atlantic.

Schlegelmilch said the deal represented more than just a trade deal.

“Europe would like to establish a strategic vision for its relationships with the world, and in this vision,” an FTA with Mercosur “is a very, very important trade agreement, but also a political one,” highlighted the EU official.

 

– TIMES/AFP
 

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