The European Union and Mercosur are close to concluding a free trade accord after decades of fitful talks, an EU official said. “We’re that close to having a new association and trade agreement between EU and Mercosur,” European Commissioner for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness Jyrki Katainen said, holding his index finger and thumb just slightly apart.
He spoke after talks with Brazilian President Michel Temer and the foreign ministers of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay, which together make up the founding members of Mercosur. Venezuela is a member of the bloc, but has been suspended, while Bolivia is in the process of joining.
“At a time when some are building walls, we want to build bridges,” Temer said, as he stood with the ministers. He was clearly referring to US President Donald Trump’s drive to construct a wall along the US border with Mexico.
The two sides are working hard to complete an agreement, at least at the political level, so that they can make an announcement during a ministerial-level meeting of the WTO in Buenos Aires next month.
Mercosur and the EU have been trying to negotiate a free trade accord for nearly two decades, but the process has been hampered by setbacks and the discussions were completely suspended in 2004. Talks resumed six years later with a commitment on both sides to sweeten their original offers.
Bones of contention include Mercosur exports of beef and ethanol to the EU.
Other touchy issues that remain to be settled include government procurement, certain agricultural goods and intellectual property rights, Brazilian officials said.
After Trump took office in January with his vehement stance against free trade accords, the EU went on an offensive in the opposition direction and in July sealed with Japan a political agreement similar to the one it is trying to close now with Mercosur.