BRASILIA – Paraguay assumed on Thursday the presidency of Mercosur at the bloc’s summit in Brasilia, with the member states hoping to strike a free trade deal with the European Union and amid concerns about the ongoing political crisis in Venezuela.
“We’ve been seeking that accord for 21 years and it’s high time that we achieved it,” said Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes upon receiving the rotating presidency of Mercosur from the hands of Brazilian leader and summit host Michel Temer in the presence of their counterparts from Argentine and Uruguay, Mauricio Macri and Tabare Vazquez, respectively.
Cartes emphasized that the EU pact is “much closer” than it was and could be signed during Paraguay’s presidency of the bloc, which will coincide with the last months of his own presidential term, given that he will hand over power in August to the winner of the April 2018 elections.
Also attending the summit in Brasilia are the presidents of Bolivia and Guyana – Evo Morales and David Granger, respectively – as well as representatives from Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Suriname, all countries that have the status of associated states of the bloc.
At a summit lasting just three hours, the greatest concern of the Mercosur leaders was the status of the talks with the EU, which all agree are in their final phase, although no pact has yet been agreed to.
“For the first time in 20 years ... arriving at a free trade agreement with the European Union is really close,” Temer emphasized upon inaugurating the summit.
Macri agreed and said that the talks with the EU are “particularly relevant” because Europe and the Mercosur bloc are “complementary” regions and the EU is the “natural destination” of a good portion of South America’s exports.
Vazquez gave a more sober assessment, however, saying that an agreement had not yet been reached due to disagreements over meat and biofuel exports, which are “fundamental” for Mercosur.
The four Mercosur presidents also agreed that the bloc must continue moving closer to the Pacific Alliance comprised of Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, and Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz said that the countries of the two trade blocs encompass just under 85 percent of all Latin American production.
The officials present in Brasilia also discussed the situation in Venezuela, which was suspended from Mercosur for what has been called an “institutional rupture.”
Temer, Macri and Cartes said that the situation in Venezuela was still far from being fully resolved, with Macri saying that “we reiterate our commitment to the defense of human rights, freedom for the political prisoners (in Venezuela) and the rapid adoption of an electoral calendar guaranteeing a transparent process” to select that nation’s leaders and officials.
The dissonant voice on the matter was that of Morales, who – although having no vote in Mercosur decision-making – called for Venezuela to be reincorporated into the bloc since what is important is the “solidarity” of Latin American countries.