UPDATE 1-Brazil must speed foreign trade deals, Cabinet minister says
(Adds quotes, political and economic context)
BRASILIA Nov 19 (Reuters) - Brazil must pick up the pace on negotiations over international trade deals, Presidential Chief of Staff Aloizio Mercadante said on Wednesday, pushing South American trade bloc Mercosur to make progress on long-standing talks.
"Mercosur is in negotiations with the European Union, it is in negotiations with some countries where there are conflicts, and we have to see how we can move forward," Mercadante said at an event in Brasilia.
According to International Monetary Fund data, Brazil is the most closed major economy in the Americas, with trade accounting for only about a quarter of gross domestic product.
Mercadante's statements run counter to those made by outgoing Trade Minister Mauro Borges in a September newspaper interview, when he said opening up Brazil to more foreign trade would be a "disaster for Brazilian industry" and came out against a trade deal with the United States.
A move towards freer trade may be part of a more market-friendly turn from recently re-elected President Dilma Rousseff as the economy teeters on the edge of a yearly recession.
Many business leaders believe lower trade barriers would help cut the cost of inputs and make local industry more competitive in the global marketplace.
Brazil, along with Mercosur partners Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, had agreed on a joint offer aimed at completing a trade deal with the European Union. Venezuela is also a Mercosur member but is not participating in the negotiations for the EU trade deal.
In August Borges said the bloc is waiting for the EU to take the next step toward an agreement that has been in the works for nearly two decades.
Brazil, a commodities powerhouse, is expected to end the year with its weakest trade balance since 2000, according to a central bank poll, after global prices for key Brazilian exports such as iron-ore, soybeans and oil dropped sharply in recent months. (Reporting by Luciana Otoni; Writing by Asher Levine; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and W Simon)
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