Europe, Latin American trade talks falter

- Reuters, BRUSSELS

Nov 22, 2017-A battle over beef between the European Union and Argentina and Brazil could push trade talks beyond a year-end deadline and lead to further years of delay.

On-off trade talks between the EU and the Mercosur group of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay have spanned 17 years.

But it is not clear the end-2017 deadline for a deal to set out how each market will open to the other—from EU cars and machinery to South American farm products—will be met.

Talks were suspended once before in 2004 and officials say missing the current window of political opportunity could lead to more delays.

The latest round of talks on Nov 6-10 between negotiators in Brasilia did not even address market access, the key part of any trade deal.

Beef is the main sticking point. Mercosur countries want their farmers to sell more of their beef in Europe to compensate for a rise in industrial imports. EU farming nations such as Ireland and France are worried their farmers will lose out.

Both sides say they would like a deal signed during a World Trade Organisation meeting in Buenos Aires on December 10-13.

 “We are not shadow-boxing or shuffling our feet. We want this agreement,” European Commission vice president Jyrki Katainen said last Monday after visiting Argentinian and Brazilian presidents during the talks the previous week.

A Mercosur official said there was a 50 percent chance of meeting the deadline.

But he also said: “There are still many threats that can derail the negotiations... It’s not only a question of substance but also a question of timing.” Brazil holds presidential and general elections in October 2018 and failure to do the deal before campaigning gets underway could make it harder to conclude. A trans-Pacific trade alliance was scrapped after it became part of the political debate in the 2016 US presidential election campaign.

 “There’s still work to be done... There is a window of opportunity which doesn’t go far beyond New Year,” EU trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom said after EU trade ministers met in Brussels earlier this month.

For the EU, the reduction in import duties could produce its most lucrative trade deal to date. It could also highlight the EU’s commitment to multilateral partnerships compared to the more protectionist stance of US President Donald Trump.

Published: 22-11-2017 08:37

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