BUENOS AIRES, June 28 (Xinhua) -- The European Union (EU) and South American trade bloc the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) reached a free-trade agreement on Friday in Brussels, one that was two decades in the making.
The breakthrough was hailed by Latin American leaders and decision-makers as a chance to spur regional economies, a boon for free trade and multilateralism, as well as a blow to protectionist trends.
"Today we reached a historic agreement between Mercosur and the European Union, a milestone that culminates a 20-year negotiating process and complements the actions we have taken to achieve greater and better access to the world," Argentina's Secretary of Foreign Trade Marisa Bircher said on Twitter.
"The strategic partnership between Mercosur and the European Union translates into more than 100 billion U.S. dollars of bilateral trade in goods and services, and implies the integration of a market of 800 million inhabitants," Horacio Reyser, the secretary of International Economic Affairs at the Argentinian Foreign Ministry, said in a statement.
"It is a milestone that marks a before and after, with the potential to transform the national productive matrix, increase gross domestic product growth, generate employment and attract investment," Reyser added.
Mercosur is composed of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay.
"The agreement will provide opportunities to export to a market of more than 500 million inhabitants with an average per capita GDP of 34,000 U.S. dollars, and access to a more diverse and higher quality product range at more competitive prices for our industries and consumers," Argentina's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro called the free-trade deal "historic" and "one of the most important trade deals of all time."
"Together, Mercosur and the EU represent a quarter of the global economy and now Brazilian producers will have access to that huge market," Bolsonaro said on Twitter.
Brazil's National Industry Confederation (CNI) celebrated the agreement, saying it "represents an entry pass for Brazil to the big league economies of international trade."
Uruguayan Foreign Minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa highlighted the benefits of the deal for his country.
"Uruguay wins in meat (exports), in rice, honey, dairy products and in special arrangements for temporary admission," he said.
Hailing it as the largest trade agreement the EU has ever concluded, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said the two sides "are sending today a strong signal that we stand for rules-based trade."
The head of the Argentinian Institute for Strategic Planning, Jorge Castro, agreed, echoed that sentiment, saying the agreement "sends a powerful message in favor of multilateralism, free trade and against protectionism."
"In the face of tensions and uncertainties in international trade, the conclusion of the agreement underscores the two blocs' commitment to economic openness and the strengthening of competitiveness," said Brazilian Foreign Ministry on Friday.
Through the agreement, the EU seeks to increase market access for its industrial products and automobile manufacturers, while Mercosur aims to increase exports of beef, sugar, poultry and other agricultural goods.
The two parties began negotiations in 1999, but talks were interrupted between 2004 and 2010 by the reluctance of both sides to make concessions, in the agricultural field for Europe and in the industrial sector for South America.
After the resumption of the negotiations in 2012, they entered another impasse in 2014, but momentum was renewed in 2017.