EU, Mercosur Aim To Conclude Trade Deal Next Year

By Agence France-Presse Leaders of the European Union and the South American Mercosur bloc agreed Nov. 12 on a program of negotiations that they say should enable them to conclude a free-trade accord by the end of next year. Under the program, five rounds of expert-level talks will be held between December 2003 and next October, alternately in Brussels and Buenos Aires, while two ministerial meetings are scheduled. "Much remains to be negotiated," said Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, in Brussels with colleagues from Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. "But we now have a good understanding of what we need to make progress," he added. One of thorniest issues will be market access for Mercosur agricultural products to EU markets, said EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy. He indicated that Brussels could make a more generous offer to its Latin American partners than that so far on the table. But the EU will not pay twice, he said, noting that the inter-regional talks between the EU and Mercosur would continue at the same time as global trade talks under the auspices of the World Trade Organization (WTO). "The EU does not have a multilateral pocket and a bilateral pocket, but one single pocket for the two sets of negotiations," he said. "We have to find a formula ensuring that in the agricultural sector we don't pay twice." Both the EU and Mercosur, which were on opposing sides at the doomed WTO talks in the Mexican resort of Cancun in September, underlined the importance of their bilateral negotiations. "It is a major priority for this commission and a major priority for the European Union," said EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten. Mercosur comprises Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2003

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