Mercosur signed a free trade agreement with the Palestinian Authority on Tuesday, the first between the territories and a block of nations outside the Arab world. The ceremony took place during Mercosur presidential summit in Montevideo.
Foreign Affairs Minister Riyad Al Maliki signed on behalf of the Palestinians, and thanked Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay for having recognized the Palestinian territories as a sovereign and independent nation.
In the West Bank town of Beit Jala Monday evening, chief negotiator Saeb Erekat called the agreement very important to Palestinian institution-building, but complained that Israeli controls are stifling his people's economy.
Diplomats have been negotiating the agreement for a year, officials said.
The only Mercosur nation that has any trade with the Palestinians is Argentina, according to the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI), a regional trade association.
”We hope that (the Mercosur countries) can help us end the suffering of the Palestinian people and reach a peace agreement between Palestine and Israel, Maliki said at the ceremony. “We are glad to know we have so many friends in the region”.
Besides the Foreign Affairs ministers, the four presidents from Mercosur full members, Cristina Fernandez, Dilma Rousseff, Fernando Lugo and Jose Mujica attended the ceremony.
The Mercosur nations along with Venezuela -- currently in the process of joining the trade bloc -- all recognized the Palestinian state over the past year.
The Palestinians have free trade agreements with the European Union, Turkey, and all Arab nations, while Mercosur has a free trade agreement with Israel also came into effect in March
The business attaché in Israel's embassy in Montevideo, Ron Gerstenfeld, told local news agencies that the accord is not the best way to promote peace” in the Middle East, but said Israel respects the Mercosur nation's decision.
According to Palestinian sources Brazilian Foreign Affairs minister Antonio Patriota asked his peers that in paragraph 42 of the Mercosur summit final declaration which refers to Palestinian rights, the demand for a major involvement of Mercosur nations in the Middle East peace process be added.