South America’s Mercosur trade bloc on Tuesday concluded in San Juan, Argentina what Brazilian President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva called “the best summit” in 15 years. After six years of negotiations, Mercosur members Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay finally reached consensus on the distribution of customs revenue and the elimination of double taxation on goods imported by member countries. The agreement will expedite and reduce the cost of commerce across South America and effectively establishes Mercosur as a customs union capable of negotiating with third parties.
In addition to progress on the Common Customs Code, Mercosur members agreed on a plan to grant commercial benefits to Haiti and to protect the Guaraní aquifer, one of the world’s largest drinking water reservoirs. Perhaps most notably, the bloc also signed a free trade agreement with Egypt, which is expected to open a market of 76 million consumers to primary and industrialized products from Mercosur countries, including pharmaceutical, automotive and agricultural goods.
Ahead of the summit, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro had sought Mercosur support for his country’s requests for membership in the bloc, which are opposed by Colombia. The response by Mr. da Silva and other leaders that Venezuela should not seek to resolve a bilateral issue at a multilateral trade summit resulted in President Chávez’s decision not to attend the meetings.
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