BUENOS AIRES: Germany and Argentina voiced hopes Thursday for a free trade agreement between the European Union and South America as German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Buenos Aires.
In talks with Argentine President Mauricio Macri, Merkel discussed bilateral commerce and efforts to strike a deal with the Mercosur grouping of South American countries.
“We are glad that negotiations for a trade deal between Mercosur and the European Union have been relaunched after having been interrupted for a year,” she said after meeting with German business leaders.
“Germany is seeking allies for the issues that matter to us, just as other countries are seeking allies,” she added later at a news conference alongside Macri.
EU-Mercosur trade talks
Although disagreements between Mercosur countries had delayed the talks, Macri insisted Argentina, Brazil and other members now agree on the need for a deal.
The prospect of a trade partnership between the two blocs raises potentially tricky questions over competition in agricultural markets.
“I am optimistic,” Macri told the news conference. “I think Chancellor Merkel is going to have more work with the protectionists in the EU agricultural sector than we will in Mercosur.”
Merkel acknowledged that “when there is a will to reach an accord, compromise solutions will have to be accepted.”
Macri has rolled back the policies of his leftist predecessors and opened up Argentina to foreign trade and finance since taking office in December 2015.
His moves have been praised by foreign allies but slammed by critics at home who say fiscal cuts are worsening hardship for working families.
Similar criticisms were leveled at Merkel over the austerity policies she supported in Europe during its financial crisis.
She praised Macri’s pro-market reforms on Thursday.
Argentina’s economy shrank by 2.3 percent in 2016 but exited recession in the second quarter of this year, according to official data.
Merkel’s one-day visit also aimed to prepare the handover of the presidency of the G20 diplomatic grouping, which Argentina will take over from Germany next year.
Before a gala dinner held at the ornate Kirchner Cultural Center, Merkel again commended Macri, declaring: “We are very impressed with the path of his government.”
Merkel started the trip by visiting a synagogue to inaugurate a newly restored German organ.
She praised Argentina for having received thousands of Jews fleeing the Nazis in World War Two.
Many German immigrants moved to Argentina from the late 19th century and the country also has a reputation as having been a place of refuge for fugitive Nazi leaders.
“In light of Germany’s past, this is a reminder for us that we have to fight against anti-Semitism wherever it appears,” Merkel said, speaking through an interpreter.
She was scheduled to fly late Thursday to Mexico for the second leg of her trip.