South American trade bloc eyes new deals as EU talks drag on
Leaders of South American trade bloc Mercosur pushed for trade deals with Asian and other Western Hemisphere countries during a summit on Monday, as roadblocks remained in talks with the European Union (EU) despite optimism earlier this year.
European officials said earlier this month that talks for a long-delayed trade agreement with the Mercosur bloc of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay were nearing a close. However, Uruguay's President Tabare Vazquez, who assumed the bloc's rotating presidency, criticized delays in negotiations.
"We are not prepared to waste time in eternal negotiations," Vazquez said in a speech. "Nor are we prepared to sign a watered-down version."
Vazquez reiterated that Uruguay was keen to sign a free-trade deal with China, its top trade partner, even if it had to sign it alone rather than as part of Mercosur.
China is the main market for many of the raw materials the bloc produces, but its manufacturing exports also compete with domestic industries.
The last round of EU-Mercosur talks in April ended with limited progress and finger-pointing about who was holding up a deal. Key gaps remain on how far to open each other's markets to industrial goods and farm products, such as Latin American beef and EU cars and dairy.
The Mercosur countries emphasized in a joint statement on the need to "have the political support from both parties" to reach a deal.
"We should not abandon the idea of this alliance," Brazilian President Michel Temer told reporters. "Closing the doors now would impede negotiations which recently have had reasonable success."