By Carlos Meneses
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jul 4 (EFE).- The Mercosur presidents concluded their summit here Tuesday by pledging to formulate a “robust” response to the latest “demands” advanced by the European Union in negotiations on a trade accord that has been under discussion for more than two decades.
The leaders of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay renewed the “commitment to advance toward the prompt signing” of an agreement “for the benefit of all parties,” according to the communique issued at the end of the meeting in Puerto Iguazu.
Though sharing the desire for a deal with the EU, the Uruguayan government declined to sign the statement as a protest against the unwillingness of its Mercosur partners to allow individual members to negotiate “autonomously” with third countries, Argentine President Alberto Fernandez told a press conference.
Hours earlier, Fernandez passed the rotating chairmanship of the bloc to Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who last took part in a Mercosur summit in 2011, the final year of his second presidential term.
Fernandez, who will leave office in December, and Lula offered the strongest criticism of a tentative accord reached with the EU in 2019 and of an environmental annex put forward earlier this year by the 27-member European bloc.
“We need for the EU to revise some things,” the Argentine said, pointing to the “unilateral” demands regarding the environment and to Europeans’ insistence that Mercosur governments stop giving preference to domestic firms in public procurement.
In his speech during the summit, Lula urged a rapid and forceful response to what he characterized as distrustful and antagonistic attitudes on the part of the EU.
“Strategic partners don’t negotiate with distrust and threats of sanctions,” the Brazilian said, adding that he plans to telephone Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez – who currently holds the EU rotating presidency – in a bid to get the talks on track.
Reaching a “definitive” agreement with the EU within the next six months will be his priority as Mercosur chair, Lula said.
Uruguay’s president, Luis Lacalle Pou, expressed pessimism and said that the lack of an accord after nearly 25 years of negotiations is “not logical in the modern world.”
“We know what we have in favor and against, let us clear away the obstacles to be able to complete it,” he said.