ASUNCION, Paraguay, Feb. 8 (UPI) -- EU officials visiting Latin America have given the clearest signal yet they are keen to seal a wide-ranging economic collaboration pact with Mercosur regional trade bloc.
Mercosur member nations' EU partners, initially reluctant because of fear of a flood of cheaper Latin American goods, want the deal signed as soon as possible amid analysts' forecasts that increased trade and economic collaboration between the two sides could lift EU economies out of the recession.
Mercosur member countries recorded high growth trends in 2010.
Even recession-ridden Venezuela hopes to recover from two years of dismal performance with a modest recovery in late 2010 and is seen by EU exporters as a major market for consumer goods, energy sector products and services and manufacturing machinery.
In Chile and Brazil, EU exports are benefiting from strong currencies in the two countries that make European exports attractive.
Mercosur was established in 1991 and includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Venezuela was accepted as a member in 2006 and is in a final stage of integrating into Mercosur. In addition Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru are associate members, Mexico attends as an observer and Egypt and Israel are the bloc's free trade partners.
EU data showed EU-Mercosur trade in 2009 was as much as EU trade with the rest of Latin America taken together. In 2008, the EU was Mercosur's first largest trading partner, representing 20.7 percent of total Mercosur trade and it was the largest investor in Mercosur. Mercosur ranks eighth among EU trading partners, accounting for 2.7 percent of total EU trade in 2009.
The European Union is Mercosur's first market for its agricultural exports, accounting for 19.8 percent of total EU agricultural imports in 2009. EU exports to Mercosur focus largely on industrial products including machinery, transport equipment and chemicals.
EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht, visiting Paraguay and Uruguay this week, said in Asuncion he believes the EU will reach a trade agreement with Mercosur because "this is the moment" and both sides are committed to conclude negotiations positively.
"I strongly believe in a trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur. The moment has come and I'm convinced it can be reached," said de Gucht after he met with Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo. Paraguay currently holds Mercosur's rotating leadership.
De Gucht is visiting Mercosur junior members Paraguay and Uruguay with the purpose of advancing negotiations ahead of EU-Mercosur meetings in Brussels in March and May.
The next stage in EU-Mercosur talks would be top of the agenda at a June Mercosur summit in Asuncion.
Paraguayan Foreign Affairs Minister Hector Lacognata said advancing the talks toward a pact was one of the key priorities.
De Gucht said he was "most encouraged by the excellent performance of the Paraguayan economy in 2010" with a 14.5 percent growth.
He said a balanced free trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur could bring substantial economic benefits to both sides and contribute to the global economic recovery.
EU and Mercosur resumed trade and association talks in May 2010 after six years of suspension and have since held negotiations in Buenos Aires, Brasilia and Brussels.