Brussels, March 26, (dpa/GNA) - Thirty years after four South American countries created the historic Mercosur bloc, a much-needed trade deal with the European Union stands on shaky ground.
On March 26, 1991, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay signed the Treaty of Asuncion, a deal that set out the free movement of goods and services between the countries and eliminated customs duties.
The agreement also set out common external tariffs and a common trade policy for the bloc of 200 million people.
Eight years later, the EU entered negotiations with the bloc - but it would take 20 years until the two sides reached a deal in 2019.
Since then, the agreement has been in limbo, with several EU governments refusing to ratify it over environment and social rights concerns.
The agreement remains "strategically important" for the EU, according to European Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis.
"It presents us with a huge opportunity to be a player in this region by developing mutually beneficial economic relationships, and by promoting our values and interests, such as climate and sustainability action," he told dpa in a written statement.
The European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly last week criticized what she describes as the European Commission's lack of due diligence over environmental concerns before setting up the Mercosur agreement.
Dombrovskis said the commission prioritized the environment, but said deforestation rates in the Amazon rainforest were concerning.
"The bottom line is that for ratification to proceed, we have to be satisfied that Mercosur partners take their sustainable development commitments seriously and will implement them fully and also abide by the Paris Agreement," he said.
"We are currently working on additional initiatives to ensure that this happens," he said.