With Argentina’s president skipping Mercosur, the future of the trade alliance looks doubtful

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ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay (AP) — The most notable thing about the Mercosur trade bloc’s meetings on Sunday in Paraguay was an absence — that of Argentine President Javier Milei.

With the Argentine populist skipping the summit to star at a right-wing rally in Brazil, South America’s biggest trade bloc — politically divided, notoriously slow-moving and beset by backsliding — faces an uncertain future. Milei has advocated for pulling Argentina, a leader of the alliance, out of the agreement altogether.

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With the Argentine populist skipping the summit to star at a right-wing rally in Brazil, South America’s biggest trade bloc — politically divided, notoriously slow-moving and beset by backsliding — faces an uncertain future.

Overseeing preparations for the presidential summit kicking off Monday after initial meetings, President Santiago Peña of Paraguay — the bloc’s rotating chair — set low expectations for what would be accomplished.

In 1991, as countries across Latin America were shaking off military dictatorships and opening up to free-market ideas, the formation of Mercosur, a customs union of once-estranged neighbors, signaled a regional breakthrough that sent capital surging across borders.

Politically powerful industries in Brazil and Argentina, the continent’s two biggest economies, long have dominated deal-making in the bloc, stirring consternation among their smaller partners that increasingly feel shunted to the sidelines.

Although there was some optimistic chatter in the conference room Sunday about future deals with the United Arab Emirates, South Korea and Japan, experts have warned that the bloc’s reputation for torturous yearslong negotiations could throw cold water on things.

“This kind of attitude, previously from Brazil (under hard-right former President Jair Bolsonaro) and now from Argentina, weakens Mercosur as a whole,” said Juan Gabriel Tokatlian, professor of international relations at the University Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires.


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