The Mercosur-EU free-trade agreement "advances” although not “at the expected speed," says Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou.
The Uruguayan leader’s comments about the South American bloc’s long-awaited deal with the European Union are the latest in a series of public statements from leaders indicating that momentum for the accord has slowed.
"Environmental and procedural issues [aside from the pandemic] remain to be resolved," said Lacalle Pou on Monday, after speaking with German Chancellor Angela Merkel via telephone.
"We agreed to follow up with our teams and evaluate the results," he added.
Later at a press conference, Foreign Minister Francisco Bustillo considered any signature of a final document in the second half of this year (during which period Uruguay presides over Mercosur) to be "improbable" and that setting any date for now was unviable.
While Merkel’s message was "highly optimistic" offering "unconditional" support for the agreement, "there are other tasks pending before setting a date," explained Bustillo.
The agreement between Mercosur – made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay – and the EU was signed last year after two decades of negotiations but it must be approved by the European Parliament and the legislatures of the 27 countries forming that regional bloc so that the governments can ratify it.
France and the Netherlands, among other countries, have manifested reservations about the agreement due to the policy defended by Brazil, under the ultra-right presidency of Jair Bolsonaro, of opening up Amazonía for the exploitation of mining and energy resources.
On August 21 Merkel expressed "serious doubts" about the future of the agreement in the face of that ecological threat, according to her spokesman.
"Nowadays environmental issues are on the working agenda of any government," said Bustillo, on being consulted about the "environmental issues" to be resolved mentioned in Lacalle Pou’s tweet.
"Amazonía is one [environmental] issue to consider but not the only one," he assured.
Last week, Brazilian Vice-President Hamilton Mourao said that Mercosur’s regional problems, especially “the continuous crisis in our great trade partner, Argentina,” were complicating the free-trade agreement.
Mourao criticised Argentina for delaying Brazilian imports, including US$100 million worth of cars.
The retired general also rubbished EU environmental objections to Amazon deforestation as motivated by the European inability to compete with Brazilian agriculture.