efe-epaSanta Fe, Argentina

South American economic bloc Mercosur is seeking to build on a trade agreement reached with the European Union and hopes to forge deals with several other countries and economic blocs.

Leaders from Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay met on Tuesday in the Argentine city of Santa Fe to finalise the agreement, which will be signed on Wednesday at its biannual summit.

The historic deal with the EU was finalised after almost 20 years of negotiations and Mercosur is now looking for close agreements with the European Free Trade Association, which includes Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, Canada and South Korea.

Member countries in the South American group are hoping that it will send a message that they are open to trade negotiations and to accelerate talks that are already underway.

Negotiations with EFTA are advancing, with the next round of discussions to be held in August, and it is estimated that an agreement with Canada could take place in 2020, according to a Mercosur source.

There is a dialogue between the United States, a strategic partner to the four countries, but no date for the beginning of negotiations.

Mercosur is also interested in deepening relations with the Pacific Alliance, which includes Peru, Chile, Colombia and Mexico.

Another focus is for the agreement reached with the EU, which creates a market of goods and services of 800 million consumers and encompasses almost a quarter of the world's gross domestic product, to take effect in the shortest time possible.

The objective for Mercosur, which is a market with 300 million inhabitants, is that the bloc's economies can get the most out of this agreement as quickly as possible.

It is willing for the deal to come into force once it is approved by the European Parliament.

Argentine chancellor Jorge Faurie described the deal as a "turning point" for the South American bloc.

Leaders at the summit also agreed to eliminate roaming charges within the member countries.

Mercosur also sought to approve a series of resolutions to modernise its structure and boost its operation.

It proposed a move towards digital signatures for documents, virtual meetings and a single budget for the organization.

The political crisis in Venezuela, which remains excluded from the meetings after being suspended as a full member in 2017 when the founding members decided that there was a "breakdown of democratic order" by the Nicolás Maduro government, is also expected to be discussed. EFE-EPA

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