By Alonso Soto
BRASILIA, July 23 (Reuters) - Brazil wants to change the way the regional trade bloc Mercosur negotiates trade agreements with the European Union to speed up talks that have been going since 1995, a senior Brazilian government official told Reuters.
Mercosur, which is made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Venezuela and Uruguay, is trying to revive negotiations with the EU to ink a trade deal that would encompass 750 million people and $130 billion of annual trade.
Pressured by a widening trade deficit, Brazil is leading those efforts, acknowledging differences in the widely diverse Mercosur group and looking to speed things up by potentially allowing members to negotiate at their own pace.
'Our desire is to advance our trade agenda and our business sector is also moving in that direction. We need to figure out a way to do just that,' Deputy Trade Minister Ricardo Schaefer said in an interview.
'The Mercosur is very important and strategic for Brazil, but we have an agenda and there are some asymmetries that we need to tackle,' he said, noting Uruguay also wants to move faster, while Argentina, because of its balance of trade problems, prefers a slower approach.
The willingness of Latin America's largest economy to take a flexible approach to the way Mercosur negotiates is an indication that Brazil is growing weary of the restraints the group puts on its plans to expand abroad to counter an economic slowdown at home.
Brazilian business groups have called on the government to push Mercosur to allow each member to negotiate trade deals at their own pace in a bid to accelerate talks.
'We are in no position to rule out anything,' said Schaefer, who acknowledged that Argentina's balance of payments problems add a 'complexity' to negotiations with the Europeans. 'The only thing that we rule out is the end of Mercosur.'
Mercosur rules forbid countries from unilaterally signing deals that involve the trade of goods.
Even if Mercosur accelerates talks, a deal with the EU may still take years to materialize, analysts say. Both sides have agreed to exchange offers by the end of the year on how far they are willing to go in opening up sectors ranging from services to agriculture.
A widening trade deficit and potential competing trade deals elsewhere have prompted Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to seek bilateral and regional deals to bolster exports at a time when its economy is stuck in a rut.
Schaefer said that a nearly 8 percent depreciation in the value of Brazil's currency opens a window of opportunity for exporters who only a year ago saw a stronger real eat away their profits.
He said the commodities powerhouse is seeking to sign investment and services deals with other countries in Latin America, Africa and the United States.
Rousseff is scheduled to make her first formal state visit to United States later this year, in a diplomatic breakthrough that officials hope can bolster trade between the continent's largest economies.
(Editing by Leslie Gevirtz) Keywords: BRAZIL TRADE/EU
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