"We must overcome our difficulties and move towards a trade agreement able to reduce asymmetries and social injustice", stressed the President of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, at a meeting with MEPs on Tuesday. Members of the EP i's EuroLat and Mercosur i Delegations voiced support for the deal without hiding their concern about its potential impact on European farmers.
Just days after the Fifth EuroLat Parliamentary Assembly ended in Uruguay last Thursday, MEPs from the EuroLat Delegation and the Delegation to the Mercosur countries (Argentine, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) met on Tuesday to discuss with the Paraguayan President the apparent impasse in the Mercosur trade talks.
MEPs strongly believe in "the need to achieve a balanced, fair and harmonious deal for both sides", according to EuroLat Co-Chair José Ignacio Salafranca i (EPP, ES).
President Lugo highlighted the benefits of the agreement and noted that Paraguay was the second fastest growing economy in the world in 2010, just behind Qatar, although he acknowledged that this had only cut his country's poverty level by 2.8%.
Agriculture... and more agriculture
The sensitivity of European and Latin American countries over certain agricultural products emerged immediately in the debate. "Europe is experiencing difficulties today, the severe economic crisis and the rise of extremism in our countries hampers our ability to reach agreements. Can you asses today the legal and political reliability of Mercosur? And assure us that its customs union will convince our companies?" asked the EP-Mercosur Delegation Vice-President, Jean-Pierre Audy (EPP, FR).
President Lugo, who currently holds the presidency of Mercosur, stressed the need to summon the will from both sides of the Atlantic to come together and acknowledged the current "serious difficulties" in implementing the customs union between Paraguay and Argentina. He also emphasised that all Paraguayan products already meet European food safety standards.
In response to a question from Catherine Greeze MEP (Greens/EFA, FR) about soya bean cultivation, Mr Lugo agreed that the intensive cultivation of this crop poses dangers to the indigenous population "owing to its effects on water pollution, land grabbing and deforestation".
The Paraguayan Congress is the only institution yet to ratify Venezuela's entry into the Mercosur club, the latter's application having already been ratified by the parliaments of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Asked about his personal view of the matter, Mr Lugo said: "Chavez is not Venezuela and Venezuela is not Chavez. I'm open to expanding our market to a significant country like Venezuela. I personally think that if a brother country wishes to join, the more we can help to step up our trade the better, provided that Mercosur has the strength to continue hosting countries and bring in trade and regional integration".