December 21, 2017 / 2:19 PM / 10 months ago

EU and Mexico say they are 'very close' to new free-trade deal

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A new free-trade deal between the European Union and Mexico is “very close” to agreement but there are still issues such as agricultural access to hammer out, senior officials from both sides said on Thursday.

The two parties are aiming to update their 2000 trade accord, which covers industrial products, by adding farm produce, government procurement and investment.

They also want to how their embrace of open markets as the United States turns inwards under President Donald Trump.

EU Trade Commissioner Malmstrom told reporters at the end of a round of talks this week that the two sides were edging towards a deal, with more work needed at the start of 2018.

“We are very close to a deal, but not really there yet ... We can see the skeleton of this agreement. We know how to get there, we know what to do,” she said.

Mexico and the EU still have to sort out how much to open up their markets to products that include Mexican beef, sugar, poultry and fruit and EU pork and dairy produce.

They also have to bridge differences over a system to settle disputes between states and companies and the EU system of protecting region-specific products, known as geographical indications (GIs), so that, for example, only sparkling wines from the French region of Champagne can call themselves champagne.

“We started talking about almost 400 (GIs) and there are a couple remaining where we need to find solutions,” Malmstrom said.

Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo also said the two parties were “very close, very near” to revamping their 17-year-old accord and said his country saw some merit in a system that would, for example, protect tequila as a Mexican product.

For Mexico, a deal with the European Union would be part of a strategy to reduce its reliance on the United States, the destination of nearly 80 percent of its exports. This has become even more urgent given Trump’s threat to scrap the NAFTA trade deal.

Guajardo said his country was working on six fronts in Latin America, Asia and Europe as well as with NAFTA partners, the United States and Canada.

Guajardo said there was no deadline for a deal with the EU, but said that the two parties should at least reach an outline agreement before Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s term expired towards the end of 2018.

The European Union has concluded negotiations with Japan earlier this month on creating the world’s largest open economic area and could also clinch a deal with the Mercosur bloc of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay early next year.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.

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