EU could end free trade talks with Mercosur in May

European External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten confirmed advances in the negotiations between the two blocs.

Despite the anti-market rhetoric of its leaders, Brazil and Argentina, together with Paraguay and Uruguay – the four Mercosur members- are closer than ever to get a free trade deal with the European Union. A key EU-Mercosur meeting in May will likely herald the end of the two blocs' free trade talks, European External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten announced.

If that happens, it would mean a serious strike to the United States that has been pushing forward a Free Trade Area of the Americas, which comprises, of course, the two South American largest economies: Brazil and Argentina. Washington claims for a deadline top the negotiations by January 2005 and now, by that time, Mercosur will have a running deal with European Union.

"We hope that we'll be in position by the time of the EU-Latin America summit in May to see very clearly the end of the negotiations and an end game," said Patten during a joint press conference in Brazil's federal capital alongside Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim. Patten made reference to the third EU-Latin American-Caribbean Summit to meet May 28-29 in Guadalajara, Mexico.

In November last year, the European Union and Mercosur, made important advances toward the free trade deal, as agreed in Brussels to wrap up talks by October 2004. We've got very close to an agreement on the political and cooperation chapters and there are some difficult trade issues," Patten said.

Patten's “difficult trade issues” are essentially, those related to the elimination of agricultural subsidies in force in the EU that block the access of Mercosur products into the block. The European Union says the elimination of such tariffs could end with domestic agriculture –Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay are well known food exporters-. However, Mr. Patten is optimistic: "With commitment, energy and good will on both sides it should be possible by May to see how we can crack those problems and bring the negotiations to a satisfactory conclusion”, he said.

Argentine foreign trade consultant, Felix Pena, told PRAVDA.Ru in Buenos Aires that Mercosur countries were heading “fair negotiations and protecting national interests”. He also explained that the subsidies issue was had to be solved at the World Trade Organization (WTO), because none wanted to ease barriers if the other countries did not do it.

The next meeting is due in Buenos Aires in February, while another in Brussels in April will discuss the crucial issue of opening European agricultural markets. "What is plain is that EU and members of Mercosur want to see a successful outcome," said Patten, who was hosted by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Hernan Etchaleco

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Author`s name Andrey Mikhailov