Two women walk by at the G20 Meeting of Finance Ministers in Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 19, 2018. (Photo via REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci)

As the G20 met in Buenos Aires to hash out issues such as global trade, the future of crypto and the policy issues ahead of the Leaders’ Summit at the end of the year, the ongoing negotiations over a trade deal between the European Union and the Mercosur popped up repeatedly as ministers on both  sides of the Atlantic expressed optimism and caution.

While the G20 as a forum did not concern itself with the Mercosur-EU talks, the presence in Buenos Aires of ministers from France, Spain, Brazil and the European Commission – coupled with the technical talks that recently took place in Paraguay – ensured that the issue remained at the front and center. However, the messages from the ministers were not unanimous.

Treasury Minister Nicolás Dujovne (L) and France's Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire shake hands during a meeting at the G20 Meeting of Finance Ministers in Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 19, 2018. (Photo via Treasury Ministry)
Treasury Minister Nicolás Dujovne (left) and France’s Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire (right) shake hands at the G20 Meeting of Finance Ministers in Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 19, 2018. (Photo via Treasury Ministry)

 

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire got tongues wagging on Monday when he said that the negotiations were “blocked.”

“For the time [being], the negotiation on the Mercosur [deal] for different reasons is blocked,” Le Maire told reporters on Monday. “You cannot explain to a producer that he has to stick to very constraining rules in Germany, France, Spain or Italy, and we’ll [import] exactly the same good that will not be produced in the same manner on another continent.”

Yesterday however, he walked back those comments at a press conference after the G20 had concluded. “That’s not exactly what I said. So, maybe I have to be clearer… What I wanted to say is that we are in the process of negotiations. And as I explained to the Argentine Minister of Economy [Dujovne], we share the same view as the Argentines, we want to reach an agreement on Mercosur. But everybody recognizes that there are still some difficulties. So we have to find solutions to those difficulties for the sake of reaching an agreement on Mercosur.”

Le Maire then added that agriculture remains a “sensitivity” for Paris, and that he would “prefer to take some more time to find a good agreement, a solid one for signing the Mercosur, instead of going too quickly with the risk of having a compromise, or an agreement that is not as good as it could be.”

Elections this year in Paraguay and Brazil could put negotiations on standby, particularly in Brazil, where the outcome is more unpredictable.

Spain's Economy Minister Román Escolano speaks to journalists at the G20 Meeting of Finance Ministers in Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 20, 2018. (Photos via REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci)
Spain’s Economy Minister Román Escolano speaks to journalists at the G20 Meeting of Finance Ministers in Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 20, 2018. (Photos via REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci)

 

In contrast, Le Maire’s Spanish counterpart Román Escolano said yesterday that there was a “growing consensus that the final difficulties can be smoothed over and that we can have an agreement.” Escolano estimated that an agreement could be reached in weeks or months.

Dujovne sounded the most optimistic, stressing that the negotiations are under the stewardship of the European Commission and the Mercosur’s political bodies and not individual countries, noting that the next meeting will be held before April 10.

The most recent negotiations in Paraguay did not result in concrete announcements of progress.