The European Union and Mercosur concluded Friday in Brussels the eighth round of negotiations for a free trade agreement with the commitment to begin exchanging market access proposals at the next meeting.
“The chapter on access to markets is not blocked. It has been agreed that we exchange proposals on goods and services before the (boreal) summer holidays”, said the European Trade Commissar Karel de Gucht, at the end of a meeting of EU Trade ministers council celebrated on Friday.
De Gutch recalled that so far the talks have not reached the point where each side makes their market access proposals.
Friday marked the end of the eighth round of EU/Mercosur discussions for an encompassing association and cooperation agreement that includes free trade.
Advances were recorded in political dialogue and cooperation, two of the three pillars of current negotiations. In trade issues the customs chapter was left for further on, but ‘progress was reported in the groups working on services, disputes’ solution-mechanisms, government procurement and rules of origin.
Trade defence and sustainable development issues were addressed but limited to a “clarification of positions and expectations”.
“The chief negotiators from both sides reaffirmed their commitment to advance discussions to achieve an association agreement that is global, balanced and ambitious”, said a brief release at the end of the meeting.
Argentine minister of Industry Debora Giorgi joined the talks on Thursday, since Argentina has the Mercosur rotating chair, but her presence caused certain disappointment among the group’s delegates since the talks at these rounds are usually at technical and not at political level.
De Gucht said that the target for concrete advances is now set for the second half of the year when Brazil takes over the chair of Mercosur next July.
Diplomatic sources said that the delay in advancing in customs issues has been conditioned by French presidential elections (April, May), since Paris is most concerned that agriculture could suffer the impact of Mercosur produce, particularly beef.
Overall the situation remains as originally displayed, while Mercosur insists in access for agriculture goods, the EU want better conditions for manufactured goods and in the field of services.
Meanwhile BusinessEurope, the EU main employers organization said in a release that “it is time to convert high level political support into a concrete thrust to exchange market access proposals by mid 2012”.
EU/Mercosur negotiators agreed that the next round of talks should be held in July in Brazil. According to EU sources a free trade agreement with Mercosur could represent annual benefits of 25 billion dollars annually for both sides.