Portugal's president urged European and South American political leaders Thursday to make a fresh push toward concluding a long-delayed trade agreement between the two continents.
President Anibal Cavaco Silva, whose country holds the European Union's presidency, said after talks with Uruguay's President Tabare Vazquez, currently head of the South American trade union Mercosur that the two organizations had to forge closer cooperation. "The time has come to give a clear political signal that the two blocs are ready to deepen their political ties and prepare the ground for the development of economic, commercial, scientific and social relations," Cavaco Silva said. He said Portugal would use its influence during its stint as president of the 27-member European Union to encourage other member states to clinch a deal with Mercosur, which comprises Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina. Vazquez said his trip this week to Brussels, Madrid and Lisbon was aimed at breathing new life into relations between the two organizations. The European Union and Mercosur have been working since 2000 to conclude an agreement designed to strengthen cooperation and free up trade. Portugal has said one of its main priorities during its EU presidency was to wrap up a Mercosur agreement by resuming negotiations that broke down in 2004. The collapse came after Brazil, Mercosur's dominant member, decided to focus its negotiating efforts on a global trade deal through the World Trade Organization that has since bogged down. The WTO talks have stalled over poor nations' criticism of farm subsidies that developed nations give to their farmers and a reluctance by developing countries to provide greater market access _ similar obstacles facing a Mercosur-EU deal. Vazquez was also scheduled to meet Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates and sign bilateral cooperation agreements.