ASUNCION — South America's Mercosur countries are set to meet on Monday to initiate talks on a possible free trade deal early next year with the European Union.
Foreign and economy ministers from the group are hoping that details of the proposed deal can be hammered out in the next few months, Paraguay's Foreign Minister Eladio Loizaga said on Sunday.
Among those expected at Monday's gathering are Argentina's President Mauricio Macri; Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff; Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez; and host nation Paraguay's President Horacio Cartes.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro had been due to attend but cannot due to scheduling conflicts, Loizaga said late on Sunday.
Mercosur countries are working on a common position they can take into talks with the European Union which have dragged on since resuming in 2010 after a six year halt.
Currently, they are ready to open up 87 per cent of the Mercosur market to EU countries who, having proposed 91.5 per cent, want more.
A trade deal would link two of the world's biggest markets, the Mercosur region of nearly 300 million inhabitants and the EU of over 500 million. But an agreement has proved elusive since negotiations started in the 1990s.
Mercosur wants a deal with the massive European Union as well as the Pacific Alliance grouping Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru.
Mercosur's full members are Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela. Its associate members include Chile, Peru and Colombia. — AFP