Mercosur states open trade talks with Canada

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Asuncion (AFP)

Latin America's Mercosur trade bloc countries formally launched negotiations on a free trade deal with Canada on Friday.

Paraguay's Foreign Minister Eladio Loizaga said the first meeting would take place in Ottawa, Canada on March 20-23.

In a joint statement, ministers said they were aiming to conclude a "Canada-Mercosur Global Trade Agreement" with a "shared commitment to trade liberalization and opening markets."

The talks with Canada, represented by Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, will cover access to goods and services markets, employment, environmental issues and small and medium-sized businesses.

Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said the two sides hoped to sign a free trade agreement before the end of the year.

"I think that this will be quicker than the negotiations with the European Union," said Faurie.

The South American bloc -- made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay -- has been engaged for more than two decades in talks with the European Union, which are moving towards a conclusion but have slowed over the reluctance to European farmers to accept imports of South American beef.

EU and Mercosur officials said last week they would extend their talks on a trade deal by a couple of weeks to resolve "four or five" outstanding issues.

"The last details are the heaviest, the most complicated ones," the Argentine minister said.