Argentina: Mercosur-EU deal must be revised to ‘bridge gaps’ between 2 blocs

Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jul 3 (EFE).- The trade deal that Mercosur reached in principle with the European Union in 2019 must be amended to “bridge the gaps” between the two sides, Argentina’s foreign minister said here Monday at the start of a two-day summit.

In a speech during a meeting of foreign ministers of that South American trade bloc’s full members (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay), Argentina’s top diplomat, Santiago Cafiero, also rejected an environmental annex included recently by the EU, saying it offered a “partial vision” with “scant consideration of the socio-economic development of the South American group of countries.”

He said Argentina shares the goal of working with the Europeans to definitively wrap up a crucial agreement “in a context of growing (global) conflict and uncertainty” and added that the agreement can be an “effective vehicle for repositioning Mercosur on the global map.”

But to that end “the texts of 2019 must worked on and updated,” he said in remarks consistent with the stance of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whose country will take over the rotating presidency of Mercosur from Argentina during the summit.

Referring to the different obstacles that lie ahead, Cafiero said the enormous existing “asymmetries” between the two blocs are not reflected in the agreement that was signed in 2019 after two decades of negotiations.

“Twenty-five of the 27 EU countries have a higher human development index than any country in our bloc,” he said.

Cafiero also criticized strict European quotas on agricultural exports to the EU, saying they are out of date amid the current context.

Mercosur exports are now “higher than what was agreed upon in 2019, so under those criteria “we’d (now) have to reduce our exports,” he said, adding that EU subsidies for its farm sector constitute another area of disagreement.

Cafiero, furthermore, rejected a so-called “side letter” that the EU annexed to the agreement in February, arguing that it imposes “new obligations” associated with the climate crisis and deforestation that “go beyond what was agreed upon in international forums.”

“And it leaves out references to the methods of implementation, how we’re going to implement it, which is indispensable,” he added.

Cafiero said Mercosur presented a counter-proposal in March to the EU’s environmental protocol that contained two additional texts: one on technical cooperation and another on financing so as to “contribute to the development of sectors that will be affected.”

Concerns about the environmental policies of Brazil’s rightist former president, Jair Bolsonaro, had been a key stumbling block to ratification of the deal for years after the agreement in principle was reached.

But the process was given new life when the center-left Lula, who has vowed to end Amazon deforestation, defeated Bolsonaro in last year’s presidential election and took office on Jan. 1.

Argentina’s foreign minister also called on the other three full members of Mercosur to remain committed to regional integration at a time when “the whole multilateral apparatus” is being called into question.

“We’re not going to achieve anything if we disintegrate, if we isolate ourselves. We need greater integration,” Cafiero said.

The meeting of Mercosur’s foreign ministers was held on the eve of a gathering of heads of state of that bloc, which will take place on Tuesday in Puerto Iguazu.

During that meeting, Argentine President Alberto Fernandez, the summit’s host, will pass on the six-month rotating presidency of Mercosur to Lula and Brazil. EFE


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