Mercosur leaders meet in Argentina, EU deal in focus

FAN Editor
Argentina's Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie speaks at the opening of the 54th Summit of Heads of State of Mercosur and Associated States, in Santa Fe
Argentina’s Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie speaks at the opening of the 54th Summit of Heads of State of Mercosur and Associated States, in Santa Fe, Argentina July 16, 2019. Argentine Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS

July 17, 2019

By Maximilian Heath

SANTA FE, Argentina (Reuters) – South American leaders from the region’s Mercosur trade bloc will meet on Wednesday in Argentina, with plans for how to fast track a recently struck free-trade deal with the European Union likely to be at the center of discussions.

The presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay will appear together in the city of Santa Fe, in Argentina’s Pampas grains belt, less than a month after agreeing to the landmark deal.

The deal, 20 years in the making, marks a rare win for free trade amid increasing global protectionism, although it still needs to be ratified, in principle, by the different national parliaments involved. Mercosur leaders indicated they were keen to find a way to speed up implementation of the deal.

“We are all in favor that the deal could have a provisional entry point, based on the discussions each member (of Mercosur) is having with their own parliaments,” Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie told reporters late on Tuesday.

Argentine Production Minister Dante Sica, speaking on Wednesday, said trade ministers were looking to push forward the deal coming into effect, which could happen on an interim basis for each country once local lawmakers approve it.

“Once all the legal issues and protocols are sorted, the idea would be that … once it was approved by the European Parliament, then each (Mercosur) country could begin tentatively operating once its own Congress gave the go-ahead,” he said.

The deal between two of the world’s largest trade blocs has been cheered by leaders in both regions, though it has raised some concerns about rising competition among farmers in Europe and industrial sectors such as automobiles in South America.

The Mercosur trade bloc also now has its eye on further trade deals, including longer-term discussions for an agreement with the United States.

The bloc is also in negotiations with the EFTA bloc – made up of Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland – and with Canada to reach treaties similar to the one agreed with the EU.

    Faurie said a deal with EFTA could be stuck in the second half of the year and with Canada in the first half of 2020.

The presidents of Bolivia and Chile, not formal Mercosur members but with close ties in the region, will also participate in the summit of leaders in Santa Fe, where there was a strong police presence in the streets on Wednesday.

The meeting will see Brazil take over the presidency of the Mercosur trade bloc from Argentina.

(Reporting by Maximilian Heath; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Susan Thomas and Bill Trott)

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