ASUNCION – The talks between the Mercosur trade bloc and the European Union are at a critical juncture, with the two sides still trying to work out a free trade agreement, Paraguayan Deputy Foreign Minister Rigoberto Gauto said Tuesday.
“We’ve made our offer, good or bad, whether the European Union likes it or not, we’re going to negotiate, but we have offered something on everything. Meanwhile, the European Union excluded beef and ethanol from its offer. We’ve told them at various points that we’re not going to start until they complete their offer,” Gauto said in a press conference at the Foreign Ministry.
The two sides are holding meetings in Brussels starting Tuesday to continue weighing the offers and try to reach an agreement on final negotiations, Gauto said.
Mercosur’s members – Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay – consider “the most delicate” point to be that the EU has not made a complete offer covering all sectors, as the South American trade bloc has done, Gauto said.
There are disagreements over several points that will have to be addressed during the talks in Brussels, the Paraguayan official said.
“These negotiations are not going to be easy and they have failed on two prior occasions,” Gauto said.
The toughest points in the negotiations have to do with the agricultural sector, especially beef, since Paraguay is the world’s No. 6 producer of the commodity, Gauto said.
“We’re not happy with the idea of starting the negotiations without a complete offer from the Europeans. It’s an imbalance that’s hard for us. Without a complete offer, we wouldn’t want to be held hostage to a focus that would be a losing one for us,” the Paraguayan official said.
Mercosur and the EU began discussing a free trade agreement in 1999, but the talks were placed on hold following several fruitless rounds in 2010, when the parties decided to use the 2016 Madrid summit between Europe and Latin America to relaunch the negotiations.