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ECONOMY | 07-06-2019 10:19

EU tells Macri, Bolsonaro: There's still work left to do on Mercosur trade deal

EU officials brush off suggestions from presidents of Argentina and Brazil that a sweeping free-trade deal with the European bloc is close to being signed.

Well this is a little embarrassing. 

Playing down claims made a day earlier by the presidents of Argentina and Brazil that a sweeping free-trade deal was "imminent," the European Union (EU) warned today that the two leaders may have been a little presumptuous – and that work is still to be done if an accord is to be reached.

The European Union (EU) warned on Friday that "there is still work to be done" in the trade negotiations with the Mercosur countries, a day after Mauricio Macri and Jair Bolsonaro had declared that an agreement is "imminent."

"The European Commission welcomes and shares Mercosur's political commitment to bring the current trade negotiations to a successful conclusion," a spokeswoman for the European Commission told AFP.

However, the spokesperson said that "for this to happen, there is still work to be done at the technical level," despite the recent "constructive" discussions held in mid-May in Buenos Aires.

The EU and the nations of the Mercosur trade bloc (currently Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay) began negotiations over a free-trade deal in 1999. Talks dragged on both sides of the Atlantic, however, before eventually being suspended between 2004 and 2010.

With the arrival of US President Donald Trump and his "America First" agenda to the White House in 2017, discussions over an EU-Mercosur deal gained a new impetus. However, they again slowed at the end of 2018 amid uncertainty linked to the election of Jair Bolsonaro as Brazil's president 

There are hopes a deal will be reached this year, despite officials on both sides of the Atlantic having made similar statements for the past two years. The European Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, said on Thursday that "in the last six months ... enormous progress" had been made. She warned, however,  that "there are still difficult things" that have to be worked through, especially in agriculture. Other sticking points include areas such as vehicle manufacturing, fishing and dairy products, according to reports.

"But we are in constant contact with the Mercosur negotiators, and it is not impossible that we can conclude this before this Commission comes to an end," at the end of October, Malmström told the European radio network Euranet Plus yesterday.

That prediction ran contrary to Brazil's Economy Minister Paulo Guedes, who suggested this week a deal could be signed as early as June.

Speaking from Buenos Aires on Thursday, as President Macri hosted his Brazilian counterpart in the capital, Bolsonaro said that "the signing of an agreement between Mercosur and the EU is imminent."

"We are very close to an agreement with the EU," agreed Macri.

Those declarations, however, spurred a different response from European officials.

- TIMES/AFP

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