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ECONOMY | 03-07-2023 14:44

Argentina's foreign minister calls for ‘updating’ of EU-Mercosur trade deal

Argentina's Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero opens Mercosur summit with call for "updating" of bloc's free-trade agreement reached in 2019 with the European Union.

Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero on Monday proposed an “updating” of the free-trade agreement between the European Union and Mercosur regional bloc, arguing the deal in its current form “does not respond to the current international scenario.”

Opening a meeting of foreign ministers from Mercosur member nations at Puerto Iguazú, on the border with Brazil and Paraguay, Argentina’s highest-ranking diplomat said President Alberto Fernández’s government is in favour of the as-yet-unratified trade deal, which was agreed “in principle” back in 2019 after 20 years of arduous negotiations.

Cafiero, whose country holds the pro-tempore presidency of Mercosur until Tuesday, called for more balanced relations with Europe amid a toughening of Brussels' environmental demands. 

The foreign minister said Buenos Aires "shares the objective of moving forward with the Mercosur-EU agreement." The issue is set to dominate talks at the summit when member nations’ heads of state attend the summit on Tuesday.

"The deepening of the link between [the blocs] is a necessary policy in an international context of conflict and growing uncertainty," Cafiero said.

But for "the agreement to have good results for both sides it is necessary to work and update the 2019 texts," he argued.

"As it was closed [the text] reflects an unequal effort between asymmetric blocs and does not respond to the current international scenario," the foreign minister added, citing disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

Resistance from agricultural sectors in some European countries and, in recent years, concerns over the environmental policies of Brazil's far-right former president Jair Bolsonaro (2019-2022) have stalled progress on the deal. 

The return to power of veteran Brazilian leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in January gave new impetus to talks, but European environmental demands, outlined in an additional document to the agreement presented in March by the EU, have dampened enthusiasm for an early conclusion of the deal.

The issue is expected to be on the table when Lula joins Argentina's Alberto Fernández, Uruguay's Luis Lacalle Pou and Paraguay's Mario Abdo Benítez on Tuesday at the summit.

Few expect the meeting, held near the triple border between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay to deliver a consensus on how to respond to European demands for environmental protection.

The bloc will also resume work – suspended since 2019 – on Bolivia's accession as a full member of the group, which represents 62 percent of South America's population and 67 percent of its GDP.

 

– TIMES/AFP

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