Mercosur trade bloc denies Zelensky request to address summit

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South America's Mercosur trade bloc has declined a request by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to address its upcoming summit, host Paraguay said on Wednesday.

Bloc members Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay failed to reach an agreement on Zelensky's request, made to the host country last week, according to deputy foreign minister Raul Cano, who declined to say which states were against it.

Zelensky has addressed several national parliaments as well as regional and international forums since Russia's invasion of his country in February, including NATO, the G7, the World Economic Forum, the United Nations and even the Cannes Film Festival.

The Ukrainian leader spoke to Paraguay's President Mario Abdo Benitez last week, asking to be allowed to address a Mercosur summit to be held on Thursday, following a ministerial meeting on Wednesday.

"There was no consensus," said Cano, adding the decision had been communicated to Kyiv.

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, whose presence at the summit has not been confirmed, has said his country would remain "neutral" over Russia's war on Ukraine.

He had travelled to Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in February, just days before the invasion.

- Deal with Singapore -

Last month, Bolsonaro said he had received assurances from Putin that Russia would continue to deliver much-needed fertilizer to the South American agricultural giant.

Last week, Brazil said it would buy as much diesel from Russia as it could, despite international sanctions against Moscow.

Argentina's Alberto Fernandez was also in Moscow in early February. On the day of the start of the invasion on February 24, Fernandez urged "all parties" in a tweet "not to use military force."

"We call on the Russian Federation to put an end to the actions taken and for all parties involved to return to the dialogue table," he said at the time.

Brazil and Argentina did not sign a February 25 Organization of American States (OAS) resolution condemning the war, while Uruguay and Paraguay did.

Mercosur announced Wednesday that it had concluded a free trade agreement with Singapore.

Mercosur exports to Singapore in 2021 amounted to $5.9 billion, and imports $1.2 billion, according to data provided by the four-member bloc.

Created in 1991, Mercosur represents a market of some 300 million people, with a territory of almost 5.8 million square miles (14.8 million square kilometers).

The deal could mean additional exports of about $500 million per year to Singapore, a country of about six million people, said Paraguay's deputy economy minister Ivan Haas.

The ministers also agreed to reduce by 10 percent the Common External Tariff (AEC) on a range of imported products -- a key demand of Brazil.

The bloc imposes common tariffs on imports from abroad, and Argentina -- for whom Brazil is a major tariff-free market -- has opposed a reduction of the AEC.

"It is a historic decision, an essential decision... particularly at a time of economic crisis and international inflation," according to Brazilian Foreign Minister Carlos Franca, who said it would boost competitiveness and regional production.

Not officially on the agenda for the meeting is Uruguay's plan to unilaterally negotiate a free trade agreement with China.

Mercosur introduced a rule in 2000 under which it is compulsory to jointly negotiate common trade deals with third parties.

Argentina is opposed to Uruguay's proposal.

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