A trade pact between the EU and South American bloc Mercosur could be agreed in early September, Argentine foreign minister Jorge Faurie said on Thursday (19 July).
Speaking with reporters following two days of talks with the EU, Faurie said that talks with EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström had “achieved a critical mass”.
“We will be negotiating until the end of July before returning to Brussels in late August with a view to signing a political agreement,” said Faurie.
However, he insisted that the September target was not an immovable deadline.
“It’s a target, not a deadline,” he told reporters. “Don’t worry about a deadline, worry about a target.”
“There are still very difficult and delicate issues to resolve,” he added.
Having signed a trade deal with Japan earlier this week, the Mercosur group of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, the world’s fourth-largest trade bloc, is the next target on the EU’s target list for trade pacts.
But progress has been stop-start. Trade talks first began in 2010 before being suspended in 2012 and resuming in mid-2016.
Of key importance to the EU are the car industry and geographical indicators, which are designed to protect and promote food and drink associated with a particular region or tradition.
The EU had started with a list of 357 GIs it wants recognized, of which around 50 were thought to be controversial, including feta and manchego cheese, parmigiano-reggiano, cognac, rioja and prosecco
“We now have to resolve around 22,” said Faurie, although he refused to go into the specifics of what items remained outstanding.
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 dairy.
“We have made a very relevant offer on dairy,” said Faurie.
Elsewhere, Mercosur has resisted a European proposal for a proposed tariff of €98 per tonne on sugar imports and are pushing for a higher quota on ethanol imports. For their part, the EU has yet to rule on Mercosur’s offer to halve auto import tariffs before gradually reducing them during a transition period lasting as long as 15 years.
Faurie’s optimistic message was echoed by Malmström at a conference in Brussels on Thursday.
“We are making good progress, we are dealing with some very difficult issues, there is still a long list,” said Malmström.
The window for a quick agreement is narrowing, with elections in Brazil in early 2019 and the mandate of the Commission ending after the European Parliament in May.