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LATIN AMERICA | 17-04-2024 17:16

Diana Mondino: Mercosur must open up to ‘agreements with other countries’

Argentina's Foreign Minister Diana Mondino calls for modernisation of Mercosur rules and backs push for free-trade deal with China.

Foreign Minister Diana Mondino has called for a modernisation of the Mercosur trade bloc, saying the regional body must be open to “agreements with other countries.”

Speaking at a business event in São Paulo, Argentina’s top diplomat said there are difficulties in concluding the bloc’s long-stalled free-trade deal with the European Union and said that a separate deal between Mercosur member states and China “would be good for us all.”

The South American bloc and the EU have been in talks to clinch an accord for more than two decades and an agreement was announced in 2019 but never implemented.

Last month, Mondino said that Mercosur — made up of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and soon Bolivia — had discussed the idea of shifting their focus from Europe to other regional trading groups.

Speaking on Tuesday at the FIESP São Paulo Federation of State Industries, Mondino said that President Javier Milei’s government is “in favour” of moving forward with talks with China. Mercosur must establish “agreements with other countries” or blocs, she added.

The minister highlighted the success of a concluded agreement with Singapore and talked up the chances of ongoing talks with the European Free Trade Area (EFTA), made up of  Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

Mercosur representatives are also in negotiations with the United Arab Emirates, Vietnam and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

In recent years, Mercosur’s progression has been stalled by ideological differences. Milei’s predecessor-in-office, Alberto Fernández, was the primary opponent of the EU deal, which French President Emmanuel Macron has gone cold on.

Brazil and Argentina, the founders of Mercosur, are working on updating the 32-year-old bloc, Mondino said in an interview with international media outlets.

However, the foreign minister acknowledged differences in the partners’ timing over new agreements and details, especially when it comes to the size of the member states. “Uruguay, which is a small economy, would not have to give much ground,” in a deal with China, she explained, as would Paraguay.

Montevideo has pushed hard for negotiations with the Asian giant and even started bilateral conversations outside of Mercosur, which exacerbated tensions within the bloc.

Brazil, in turn, would have more to lose from a deal with China and would therefore seek to move forward “more slowly” to assess the true advantages. Like Argentina, its neighbour has “larger industries and they try to take care of local production,” Mondino pointed out.

The drive for new trade deals comes with the Mercosur-European Union deal tangled up. France’s Macron, who faces heavy domestic opposition to it from agricultural producers and farmers, described the deal as “very bad” while on a recent visit to Brazil.

Despite that, the agreement, which “is not panacea,” according to Mondino, “has continued to progress,” stressed the official.

Argentina’s foreign minister conceded that the election of a new European Parliament this coming June had delayed the negotiations, yet stressed that once that process was complete, there would be “no reason to put it off.”


 

– TIMES/AFP

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