BRUSSELS - Free trade talks between Europe and South America could yield a deal within two years, Argentina's senior trade official said, taking a more positive view of trade alliances between Buenos Aires and its neighbors.
The European Union and the Mercosur bloc led by Brazil launched trade negotiations in 1999, but they have faced multiple setbacks, partly due to more than a decade of leftist rule in Argentina.
That government has now replaced by a more pro-business government since late 2015 that advocates trade.
"There is a conviction among political leaders of Mercosur and among business people...that we need more integration into the global economy and to upgrade our technology," Argentina's Commerce Secretary Miguel Braun told reporters in Brussels.
Asked whether a deal by the end of 2017 was possible, as Spain has suggested, he said it was feasible, not guaranteed.
"In terms of negotiations, I am optimistic we can move forward at a good pace, maybe one or two years," he said mid-way through this week's talks between the European Commission and negotiators from Mercosur members Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Braun recognized there was resistance to trade deals in Europe, with large demonstrations against planned accords with the United States and Canada, and a challenge from Britain's plan to leave the bloc, which he said made the EU a smaller and less attractive trade partner.
Trade specialists, he said, needed to do a better job showing trade deals were good for the majority of people and for job creation. For sectors for which trade deals pose a risk, he said, governments had to work on complementary policies to less potential blows.
"Of course in the EU, there are challenges in public opinion.. but at the same time, going back to the Brexit question, I wonder whether this deal isn't an opportunity to show the European project is still dynamic and moving forward," Braun said.
The EU and the Mercosur exchanged market access offers in May this year, including lists of imports that each side was prepared to liberalize.
The EU was looking for more than 90 percent of goods and sectors to be opened up, however the details have not been made public. It was the first exchange of offers since 2004.