OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada and the South American Mercosur trading bloc agreed on Friday to hold exploratory talks to strengthen their relationship, Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast said on Friday.
Fast did not go as far as saying the end goal would be a free trade zone, which is what Mercosur and the European Union have been trying -- unsuccessfully so far -- to achieve.
“I am hopeful that these exploratory discussions will help us enhance our economic ties with Mercosur, the largest common market in South America,” Fast said in a statement from Paraguay, the current head of Mercosur. Other members are Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.
Mercosur has trade agreements only with smaller countries including Israel and Egypt. The bloc, with a population of 250 million, has not tried to forge a deal with the United States.
Talks with the European Union have stumbled over EU farm subsidies and disputes over tariff barriers and market access for manufactured products.
“Although we are in the early stages of these discussions, we know there are potential commercial opportunities in this market that are worthy of further dialogue,” Fast said.
The statement said Mercosur offered opportunities for Canadian companies in aerospace, life sciences, infrastructure, information and communications technology, clean technology, mining, and oil and gas.
Bilateral trade between Canada and Mercosur totaled C$7.9 billion ($8 billion) in 2010.
Reporting by Randall Palmer; editing by Rob Wilson