EU trade chief backs Mercosur pact in Brazil visit

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EU trade chief Karel De Gucht said on a visit to Brazil Tuesday he saw an EU-Mercosur trade pact happening in less than a year, despite France's "firm" opposition to a deal with the South American bloc.

"What we hope is that we could come to an agreement within a reasonable timespan, ideally before the next summer holidays," he said, referring to the European summer break starting in July 2011.

Speaking after a meeting with Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim and Trade Minister Miguel Jorge, De Gucht said both sides would lay out their positions by the end of the year for what he described as an "ambitious and comprehensive" deal.

But France is intent on scuppering the renewed push for an EU accord with the South American trade bloc, which began in May after being stalled for six years.

"Europe is not a dumping ground for South America's farm products," French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire said Tuesday at an international trade show in western France.

"Farmers are not bargaining chips. We won't go any further in WTO negotiations. We won't go any further in negotiations with Mercosur," he said.

De Gucht acknowledged that agriculture was a "very sensitive" issue in Europe and that "certain countries" were critical of the resumed talks.

But he insisted that it was the European Union which was negotiating, suggesting that France's recalcitrance would be ignored.

The EU commissioner was to continue his South American tour with a visit to Argentina on Wednesday, and said he would drop in on other Mercosur members Uruguay and Paraguay before the end of the year.

© 2010 AFP

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