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Reuters | 6 September 2023
Brazil minister says Mercosur reply on trade deal sent to EU, diplomats deny
BRASILIA, Sept 6 (Reuters) - Brazil’s Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira said on Wednesday the Mercosur bloc of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay has sent the European Union their position on a European addendum to their long-awaited trade agreement.
But Uruguay and Paraguay have yet to present their positions in writing, sources in both countries and diplomats in Brasilia told Reuters.
European negotiators have been waiting since March for Mercosur’s counterproposal to a so-called side letter from the EU which included environmental safeguards to address strong reservations expressed by many EU member states about the deal.
Differences between Brazil and Uruguay on a response to the EU, and a change of government in Paraguay, have delayed a joint Mercosur reply, the diplomats said.
"I can’t guarantee the EU will accept it, but we will negotiate (the addendum)," Vieira said in a radio interview, adding that teams from both sides had met virtually this week and will gather in person later this month in Brazil.
A meeting between EU and Mercosur negotiators was scheduled for Sept. 15 in Brasilia and will be chaired by Brazil, the country’s foreign ministry said, though diplomats cautioned this has not been confirmed.
In Montevideo, a source at Uruguay’s foreign ministry said no letter had been sent on behalf of the South American bloc.
In Asuncion, Paraguay’s deputy foreign minister told Reuters on Tuesday that no Paraguayan counterproposal had been sent.
Vieira added that Mercosur wants the EU to be "more flexible" on potential sanctions that could be imposed on the South American countries in case they failed to fully comply with European deforestation standards.
The minister said that Brazil already had a clear environmental policy in place since President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva took office in January, highlighting its goal of halting illegal deforestation in the Amazon rainforest by 2030.
Lula has previously said the EU side letter contained unacceptable "threats" to penalize countries.
"We are confident about the negotiations," Vieira said. "Both the EU and Mercosur have expressed how strategic this deal is."
In Brussels, European Member of Parliament Thomas Waitz told Reuters by telephone that EU negotiators had not received a Mercosur counterproposal in writing.
"Between themselves, Mercosur countries are unclear on what their negotiating position should actually be," he said. "They need more time to come to a conclusion."