Uruguay, now with the support from Argentina, is very much interested in advancing with the cooperation and trade agreement between Mercosur and the European Union, and is planning for president Tabare Vazquez to attend a Brussels meeting with EU officials to emphasize the matter.
Uruguay which currently holds the Mercosur chair is enthusiastic about advancing the agreement since there is now a clear determination from the four members (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) to move ahead, and French president Francois Hollande during his brief visit last week to Montevideo pledged to support talks, although as usual recalled that agriculture remains a 'highly sensitive' issue for Paris.
With this scenario and since the fifth Mercosur member, Venezuela, is still in the process of incorporation to the group, and trade negotiations with the EU date back to 1999, Uruguay will propose to its peers that during the following six month period (beginning next July) Montevideo continues with the negotiations, and at the end of the current year, they are handed over to Argentina.
This means that the alphabetical rotating chair will be occupied by Venezuela, but the business with the EU will continue in the hands of Uruguay.
During the first week of March, EU technical negotiators are scheduled to visit Montevideo to advance in the proposals that should be exchanged with the EU sometime later this year. The proposals refer to the tariff reductions in the different areas, and timetable, to which both sides are prepared to accept, and will be analyzed before their formal presentation.
On 8 April Uruguay's foreign minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa is scheduled to meet with the EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malsmtröm, and Montevideo believes that to give the issue a greater sense of willingness and urgency, President Vazquez could lead the delegation and also meet with other EU officials.
We need to open new markets to sell the Uruguayan production, so that we can ensure economic activity and jobs, has repeatedly underlined president Vazquez who is facing a strong slowdown of the Uruguayan economy.
We are looking to India, China and the Pacific Alliance, and I have plans to travel to those countries to promote trade and investment underlined Vazquez.
Also last Thursday at a meeting with his French peer Hollande, (the second of the heads of state in four months), in Montevideo, Hollande said he was prepared to advance EU/Mercosur negotiations but with a special vigilance over agriculture and the audiovisual sector.
As it is well known, farmers' lobbies in France are most powerful, and Paris is also concerned about French language, and fears the advance of 'Hollywood English' on French culture, thus its reluctance to be pushed on these issues. In agriculture it also has the support from Ireland and some central European countries.
Finally the administration of president Mauricio Macri which under Cristina Fernandez privileged domestic production and jobs over trade, has changed the stance and has anticipated its proposal will be in line with those of Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. In the latest Argentine proposal, under Cristina, the tariff reduction process had to take fifteen years.
The message was transmitted by Argentine vice-president Gabriela Michetti, who last Friday make a quick one day visit to Montevideo to meet Vazquez and other political leaders.