EU, South American bloc extend trade talks

Asuncion: The European Union and the South American trade bloc Mercosur are extending talks on a free trade deal by a couple of weeks to resolve “four or five” outstanding issues, officials from both sides said.
Paraguay’s foreign minister, Eladio Loizaga, said the discussions had advanced and “we can be satisfied” with the progress so far.

Even though the current round of face-to-face talks wrapped up in Paraguay’s capital on Friday, the decision was taken to keep the negotiations going through teleconferencing and emails, Loizaga said.

“We can’t close them completely. There are four or five issues in this moment, but I don’t foresee a big problem,” said Edita Hrda, the chief for the Americas for the EU’s foreign policy service.

She said she expected the deal could be signed before June, when Paraguay’s term chairing the talks comes to an end.

There is a desire among the parties to reach agreement before Brazil — Latin America’s biggest economy — enters campaigning for October presidential elections.

Mercosur comprises Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. Troubled oil producer Venezuela was suspended indefinitely from the bloc last year.

Discussions between Mercosur and the EU toward a free trade deal began two decades ago.

Loizaga identified automobiles and auto parts as one of the biggest sticking points remaining in the talks, specifically technical standards. Agriculture was another.

Any resulting accord with the EU would blaze a path for other free trade pacts with Mercosur. Negotiations are to begin next week between the South American bloc and Canada and Singapore, with South Korea discussions due to begin later.