Uruguayan Foreign Minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa, whose country holds the rotating 6-month presidency of Mercosur, said Thursday in Brasilia that the bloc remains committed to "finalizing" a commercial pact with the European Union before the end of the year.
"We have great expectations for finalizing it (this year), but we're not going to set ... dates," said Nin Novoa, along with his counterparts in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil - Jorge Faurie, Luis Alberto Castiglioni and Aloysio Nunes, respectively - the latter of whom is hosting a meeting of the four foreign ministers of the bloc.
According to Nin Novoa, if negotiations cannot be concluded before yearend, the pact would be finalized within "the first three months" of 2019, since it would be preferable to do so prior to the European parliamentary elections scheduled for May.
The Uruguayan foreign minister said that currently "two levels of issues," both technical and political, are being evaluated.
"The most complex issues are the asymmetrical ones" regarding access to markets offered by the two parties, he said.
He added that while Mercosur is offering the Europeans broader access to its markets, the EU members have only put "some portions" of their market on the table.
Nin Novoa also said that "another issue is that the EU has a level of subsidies for its production that makes the negotiation disadvantageous" for Mercosur and still must be discussed at the technical level.
He did not specify what "political" points remain to be discussed, but he suggested that the proximity of the European elections is one of them, given that a change in the makeup of the European Parliament could influence the discussions.
He did not comment on French President Emmanuel Macron's recent statement that Paris would not support "broad trade accords" with countries that do not support the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, referring to Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro's opposition to that pact.
"It's not appropriate for foreign ministers to speak about the statements of presidents," Nin Novoa said, although he added that Brazil had had an election and the "decisions of peoples must be respected."