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Rajoy pushes for EU-Mercosur deal by end of year

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called Tuesday for the European Union to sign a free trade deal by the end of the year with South American bloc Mercosur.

“This deal is closer than ever, and that’s why we must speed up negotiations to close it by the end of 2017,” he said at a meeting with business executives during a trip to Brazil.

The EU and five-member Mercosur have been negotiating since 1999 to create a trans-Atlantic free-trade zone covering some 760 million people.

But the talks broke down in 2004 and remained on hold for six years.

They have surged back to the forefront recently as the EU seeks alternatives to its proposed trade deal with the United States, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership — now in danger under US President Donald Trump.

On the South American side, the arrival in power of business-friendly, pro-trade leaders in Argentina and Brazil has revived interest in the deal.

In a whirlwind visit, Rajoy met with Brazilian President Michel Temer in Brasilia, then jetted in for the business forum in Sao Paulo, the economic capital.

Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy, is a founding member of Mercosur, along with Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

The fifth full member, Venezuela, was suspended last year for violating the group’s democratic and trade standards.