Mercosur trade bloc slams EU immigration laws

Seven presidents from the Mercosur trade bloc met in Argentina to discuss plans for regional integration and address the global food crisis. The South Amercian leaders are also expected to slam newly approved EU immigration rules.


South American leaders on Tuesday slammed new EU immigration laws as xenophobic, and charged that farm subsidies were a key cause of the global food crisis.


"We are going to raise a common voice" against the law which calls for the jailing and deportation of undocumented foreign nationals, Chile's President Michelle Bachelet warned at the Mercosur summit here.


The European Union last month adopted tough new rules on illegal immigrants, allowing detention for up to 18 months prior to expulsion.


The measures, which could come into force in 2010, have been strongly criticized by human rights groups and most Latin American governments. Many South American nationals live in Europe and send millions of dollars back home to their families.


Bachelet spoke just before the end of a two-day meeting of Mercosur (short for Common Market of the South) to discuss regional diplomatic and trade policy. A declaration was signed by the seven presidents from Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Venezuela, Chile and Bolivia.


Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said earlier that "the cold wind of xenphobia is blowing again as an erroneous answer to challenges posed by the economy and society."


"It is unfair. It is a law that is outrageous, ignominious," added Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.


Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa has called the measure a "shameful directive" redolent of racism and discrimination.


"One has to respect human rights, and the rights of immigrants," said Uruguay's President Tabare Vazquez. "Nobody emigrates for fun, they do it out of necessity."


With hundreds of thousands of Latin American emigrants now in Europe, the EU's tough new tack has triggered distress and a sense of betrayal in a region which in the past welcomed a flood of Europeans seeking better lives.


The Mercosur leaders also focused on the global food crisis and how the region can boost food security for its people.


The United Nations has warned the number of starving people around the world could rise from 800 million to 860 million. In Latin America, poverty affects some 200 million people, almost 40 percent of the region's population.


Argentine President Cristina Kirchner warned that "not long ago, nobody could imagine the food problem would mushroom so swiftly, with situations that take you back to the Middle Ages and people dying over a grain of food, or a crust of bread."


She highlighted the broader economic picture with oil at 140 dollars a barrel and soybeans near 600 dollars a tonne, as her own government squares off against rebel farmers opposed to her grain export taxes.


"Where once there was financial speculation, now there is food speculation," Kirchner said. "Before, we paid the price on a macroeconomic level. Now we are paying for it with our flesh and bones."


Leaders separately took aim at agricultural subsidies as part and parcel of this crisis, asking in their declaration for "substantial decreases in farm subsidies and the gradual elimination of export subsidies."


"They have a negative effect on the farm output of many developing countries and affect their food security," the Mercosur leaders said.


Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay formed Mercosur in 1991 with the aim of creating a South American common market. Venezuela signed a membership agreement in 2006 that awaits full ratification. Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru are associate members.


Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning