Spain's PM calls for EU-Mercosur trade deal this year

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy looks on during a meeting with Brazil's president Michel Temer at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil April 24, 2017. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - The European Union and South American trade bloc Mercosur should intensify talks to reach a trade agreement this year, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Tuesday, urging haste after 18 years of negotiations.

Rajoy’s comments at a trade event in Sao Paulo reinforced a 2017 target proposed on Monday by Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra and EU ambassador to Brazil João Cravinho, who said a deal could be ratified in 2018 and implemented in 2019.

Rajoy said an accord is “closer than ever” and highlighted opportunities for Spanish investment in Brazil’s infrastructure, energy and transportation sectors. Spain has been the second-largest source of foreign investment in Brazil to date after the United States.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes said on Tuesday that Mercosur must focus on lowering its internal trade barriers to ease talks with the European Union, questioning disparate price schemes for Brazilian and Argentine produce, for example.

Mercosur, which also includes Uruguay and Paraguay, began negotiations with the European Union in 1999, broke them off in 2004 and resumed talks again in 2010.

Malcorra suggested on Monday that a U.S. retreat from global trade talks had opened a window for the European Union to become a strong player in multilateral accords between regions.

Reporting by Brad Haynes; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and James Dalgleish