October 10, 2017 / 1:59 PM / a year ago

Ball in EU court on Mercosur trade deal: Uruguay

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union must make a better offer on opening its markets to beef and ethanol imports to seal a free-trade deal with South American bloc Mercosur, a Uruguayan official said on Tuesday.

The Mercosur countries of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay and the EU are entering the decisive phase of negotiations as they aim to agree the main points of a deal by year-end.

Europe has offered to allow 70,000 tonnes of beef and 600,000 tonnes of ethanol to enter the EU with reduced import duties, which Brazilian and Argentinian negotiators described as “disappointing”.

Mercosur has proposed ways of pushing forward negotiations on opening markets, but the EU has rejected them, according to a Uruguayan official who said a deal was still possible by December if the EU position shifted.

“It is a very frustrating situation but the ball is now clearly on the EU side,” the official said. “We cannot leave certain things for the end.”

The language echoed that of British Prime Minister Theresa May who said on Monday it was up to the EU to make new proposals to move Brexit talks forward to address future trade relations with Europe once Britain has left the bloc.

The European Commission, which negotiates on behalf of all EU countries, has to balance the interests of members pushing for a trade deal and those such as France and Ireland which are concerned about a glut of agricultural imports from Mercosur.

The next negotiating round is planned for Nov. 6-10, with another possibly at the start of December.

Commission officials acknowledged that Mercosur counterparts had not been “thrilled” by the EU offer.

“It’s understandable that your counterpart is not always enthusiastic. We always want more,” one said.

Both sides recognize the end of the year as more than just a symbolic deadline, with elections due in Brazil in October 2018 that would probably stall any negotiations.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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