Photographer: Dado Galdieri/Bloomberg

Trump Boosts South America Trade Talks, Brazil Minister Says

  • New governments in Brazil, Argentina seek greater cooperation
  • Mercosur customs union to hold trade talks with Canada, India

U.S. President Donald Trump’s nationalist policies are breathing new life into South America’s efforts to open up its markets to the world, according to Brazil’s foreign minister.

The Mercosur customs union plans to launch trade talks with Canada, India, and maybe South Korea and Japan in the next 18 months, while cutting its own red tape using more "pragmatism and less ideology," Aloysio Nunes told Bloomberg in an interview on Friday afternoon in his office in Brasilia.

Nunes also said he expected the European Union and Mercosur to finally reach a deal, almost two decades after talks first began in 1999. Efforts to cut regulatory obstacles and eliminate exemptions to its common external tariffs would facilitate talks with the Europeans, Nunes said in his first interview with a foreign media outlet since he took office March 7.

"There are things that need to be done, obstacles that need to be removed so we can have a Mercosur that functions as a common market," Nunes said. With the U.S. administration upending trade deals on the one hand, and the members of Mercosur more closely aligned on the other, a host of alternative partnerships have emerged, he added. "Not just for economic reasons but for political reasons, on their part and ours."

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While protectionism has surged in parts of the western world, the search for new trade deals has surged in South America after more market-friendly governments took over in its two largest economies, Brazil and Argentina.

"Today you have a real convergence between the countries of the block," said Nunes, who was the vice presidential candidate on the ticket that lost the 2014 election to now deposed President Dilma Rousseff.

Corruption

The foreign minister downplayed suggestions that the fallout from Brazil’s epic corruption scandal was adversely affecting its image in the region. Prosecutors from 11 countries have formed a task force to investigate bribes paid by the Brazilian firm Odebrecht S.A.

But Nunes, a former guerrilla who was forced into exile during Brazil’s period of military rule, acknowledged that the country’s worst recession on record had setback its ambitions abroad.

"Any country which has seen its GDP shrink by almost 8 percent in two years is a country with less capacity to influence, from an economic point of view," he said, adding that he believed Brazil is now on the road to recovery. "International trade is the main factor in the return to growth."

Venezuela

A staunch critic of Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, Nunes also expressed concern over the neighboring country’s deteriorating humanitarian situation, saying that the government had repeatedly turned down offers of food and medicine.

Though Brazil will continue to denounce Venezuela’s actions to international organizations, Nunes ruled out more direct action.
"We’re not going to intervene in Venezuela," he said. "This is an issue that has to be solved by Venezuelans."

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