The apparent impasse in the European Union/Mercosur trade talks was addressed by the Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo at a meeting on Tuesday with Members of the European Parliament and the EU delegation to Mercosur negotiations.
“We must overcome our difficulties and move towards a trade agreement able to reduce asymmetries and social injustice”, said the Paraguayan president.
The meeting took place just days after the Fifth EuroLat Parliamentary Assembly ended in Uruguay last Thursday and MEPs from the EuroLat Delegation said they support a trade agreement but have concerns about its impact on the EU farming sector.
“We strongly believe in the need to achieve a balanced, fair and harmonious deal for both sides” according to EuroLat Co-Chair José Ignacio Salafranca (EPP, Spain).
“Europe is experiencing difficulties today, the severe economic crisis and the rise of extremism in our countries hampers our ability to reach agreements. Can you asses today the legal and political reliability of Mercosur? And assure us that its customs union will convince our companies?” asked the EP-Mercosur Delegation Vice-President, Jean-Pierre Audy (EPP, FR).
President Lugo, whose country currently holds the presidency of Mercosur, stressed the need to summon wills from both sides but also acknowledged the current “serious difficulties” in implementing the customs union between Paraguay and Argentina and the ongoing trade disputes between Brazil and Argentina.
In response to a question from Catherine Greeze MEP (Greens/EFA, FR) about soy-bean cultivation, President Lugo agreed that intensive farming could pose dangers to the indigenous population “owing to its effects on water pollution, land grabbing and deforestation”.
Nevertheless President Lugo highlighted the benefits of the overall agreement, (agriculture, industry and services) for both sides, and noted that Paraguay was the second fastest growing economy in the world in 2010, just behind Qatar. He also emphasized that all Paraguayan products already meet European food safety standards.
Venezuela’s admission as a Mercosur full member was also on the table since lawmakers of the other three full members, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have approved the incorporation but the Paraguayan congress refuses to accept the regime of President Hugo Chavez.
“Chavez is not Venezuela and Venezuela is not Chavez. I’m open to expanding our market to a significant country like Venezuela. I personally think that if a brother country wishes to join, the more we can help to step up our trade the better, provided that Mercosur has the strength to continue hosting countries and bring in trade and regional integration”, said President Lugo.
Meanwhile in Asunción Senator Carlos Filizzola from the ruling coalition rejected as “nonsense and absurd” claims from the opposition that President Chavez was offering money to muster sufficient votes to have Venezuela’s incorporation approved by the Paraguayan congress.
Venezuela first applied to integrate Mercosur in 2006 but the incorporation protocol charter has been unable to overcome the Paraguayan congress hurdle.
“Those claims are totally irresponsible and I invite the Senator who is making the claim to present evidence in court”, said Filizzola who admitted contacts in Congress to try and reach an agreement, and sufficient votes, on the controversial issue.
Opposition senator Juan Galaverna alleges that they have been offered up to 200.000 US dollars by the Venezuelan regime for a support vote.
He also claims the administration of President Lugo is offering ‘important posts’ and other perks for Senators’ votes.
Vice-president Federico Franco who has joined the opposition has stated that “all the gold of the world won’t make me vote for Chavez. One thing is Venezuela, and another is the dictator; we will wait until he’s gone”.
President Lugo on two occasions tried to have Venezuela’s incorporation approved but had to back step because he was unable to bring together the necessary votes.
The most conservative members of the Paraguayan congress reject point blank any dealings with Chavez, but others are taking advantage of the weak government of President Lugo, whose catch-all coalition that took him to office has dispersed.