Mercosur’s Chair Moves to Brazil Amid Unexpected Cheering Times

What was forecasted to be a diplomatic flop only a month ago has turned dramatically in the last week and now promises to be a huge success: next month’s Mercosur presidential summit in Cordoba, Argentina.

The de-freezing of the Uruguay/Argentina dispute over the construction of pulp mills following the presentation of the case in The Hague International Court and gestures from both sides have helped create a positive climate for the July 20/22 summit.

Most Mercosur full and associate member presidents have confirmed their presence, Brazil’s Lula da Silva; Paraguay’s Nicanor Duarte; Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez; Chile’s Michelle Bachelet; Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Uruguay’s Tabare Vazquez. Two other leaders from the region will also be participating, Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe and Ecuador’s Alfredo Palacio.

According to Argentine sources the fact so many presidents have confirmed will help with the agenda which includes a timetable for Venezuela’s full membership and voting rights, and discussions on the oil and gas pipeline extending from Venezuela and linking to most other countries in the region.

Venezuela is expected to be formally incorporated to Mercosur in a ceremony to be held in Caracas next July 4, when the entire group’s founding members’ presidents (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) will be hosted by Hugo Chavez. However Venezuela will not acquire full voting rights until 2010.

The new five members group will represent 75% of South America’s GDP with a population of 250 million.

Two other presidents that still have to confirm their assistance are Mexico’s Vicente Fox and Cuba’s Fidel Castro. President Kirchner has specially invited Mr. Fox since Mexico and Argentina are ready to sign a trade agreement that is expected to boost commercial exchanges above the current figure of US$ 3 billion annually.

However Mexico is holding presidential elections next July 2 and Mr. Fox could have to face domestic political problems plus the fact the Mexican diplomacy does not want a repeat of the incidents when the Interamerican summit last year in Mar del Plata.

Fidel Castro’s presence in Cordoba could be justified since Mercosur and Cuba are in the final stages of a free trade agreement, but the Cubans have several annoying, bilateral issues pending with the host country Argentina.

The agenda of the Cordoba meeting also includes approval of the new Common Customs Code, which becomes effective in 2008 and the formal launching of the Mercosur Parliament.

Mercosur leaders besides assessing how trade discussions with Cuba, Israel and Pakistan are evolving will have to define a common position for the World Trade Organization negotiations, particularly emphasizing in demanding a strong reduction in rich countries farm subsidies and support policies.

During the summit the Mercosur chair will pass for the next six months from Argentina to Brazil.

Mercopress – www.mercopress.com

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