, BRASILIA, Jan 25 – Brazilian and European leaders called Thursday for the speedy conclusion of a free trade pact between the European Union and South American trading bloc Mercosur.
The call for action was made as Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff hosted European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
Mercosur, founded in 1991 by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, now also includes Venezuela, and its members represent a huge swath of South America’s growing economy.
Both the EU and Mercosur “expressed the strong political will to reach an accord,” Van Rompuy told reporters.
Negotiations have so far stumbled over differences on agriculture, especially European farm subsidies, which are seen as hindering South American growers.
Noting that Europe had seen the worst of the economic crisis but still faced the challenge of reducing high unemployment, Van Rompuy pressed for a “speedy conclusion” of the accord.
“In the next few days we will have a high-level meeting between Mercosur and the EU which we view as strategic,” Rousseff said, referring to a ministerial session between the two blocs on the sidelines of a two-day Latin America-Europe summit which kicks off in Chile on Saturday.
In this meeting, “we will have the opportunity to work out the first steps of the negotiation,” she added, insisting that an agreement was “very important for both regions.”
But Rousseff warned that a deal requires “rebalancing trade ties” and taking into account “sensitivities on both sides.”
The Brazilian leader and the EU officials also agreed on the creation of a commission to look into prospects for boosting bilateral trade and investments, Barroso said.
Last month, Venezuela became the newest full Mercosur member at a summit in Brasilia, while Bolivia took a first step toward joining.
With the admission of Venezuela, which boasts the world’s largest proven oil reserves, Mercosur is now an energy and agriculture giant with a GDP of $3.3 trillion (83 percent of South America’s total) and 275 million people.
Meanwhile, corporate officials from the two blocs also met and pressed for accelerated talks on a free trade deal between Europe and Mercosur.
And Jorge Rocha de Matos, vice president of BusinessEurope, told AFP that Europe’s ties with Brazil could boost economic growth.
“We need to bolster this relationship and if it is not sufficiently defended within the framework of Mercosur, solutions have to be found,” he said.
In 2007, Brazil and the European Union established a strategic alliance and the two held their last summit in Brussels in 2011.