Politico | 2 January 2024
Mercosur mulls ‘last-chance’ summit to close EU trade deal
By Camille Gijs and Hans von der Burchard
South America’s Mercosur countries are considering holding a high-level summit with top European Union officials in Brasília late January or early February in a bid to seal their long-delayed trade agreement, three Mercosur diplomats told POLITICO.
The exact date of the gathering is not confirmed yet, but it would be likely to take place shortly before or soon after an internal meeting of Mercosur countries on January 31, the diplomats said, speaking anonymously to discuss sensitive matters.
Hopes had been high that leaders from the EU and the Mercosur group — which comprises Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay — would be able to shake hands on their trade pact during a summit of Mercosur countries early December.
But the election of libertarian right-winger Javier Milei as president of Argentina caused a last-minute obstacle: Outgoing Argentinian President Alberto Fernández, whose left-wing party was about to switch from government to opposition, suddenly said he could no longer sign the deal, saying that it was bad for local businesses.
The volte-face by Fernández, who had previously supported the deal, shocked political allies on both the Mercosur and EU sides and raised questions over whether the pact, which has been in the making for nearly 25 years, could ever be concluded.
On the European side, France also renewed its opposition to the agreement.
Yet now there’s fresh optimism that a breakthrough could still be possible before the European Commission’s mandate expires and elections to the European Parliament are held next June. Although the more skeptical Paraguay is now chairing the Latin American group, it signaled it was happy for Brazil to continue leading the negotiations with the European Commission.
Meetings at the technical level will take place through January, the Mercosur diplomats said, in a bid to sort out remaining differences on the trade and sustainability chapter and granting Mercosur companies more protection from European competition on procurement.