Riyad al-Malki (C)
Montevideo - AFP
Palestinian foreign affairs minister Riyad Al Maliki on Tuesday signed a free trade agreement with the Mercosur trade group during the organization's presidential summit here.
ministers of each of the core Mercosur nations -- Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay -- signed the agreement along with Maliki in a ceremony broadcast by the office of Uruguay's president.
Diplomats have been negotiating the agreement for a year, officials said.
The only Mercosur nation that has any trade with the Palestinians is Argentina, according to the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI), a regional trade association.
Last year Argentina exported goods worth $1.7 billion to the Palestinians, down from $2.2 billion in 2009 and $3.4 billion in 2008.
Argentine exports include fish, crustaceans and meat, while imports from the Palestinians included in 2010 some $92 million worth of stonework, plaster, cement and asbestos.
"We hope that (the Mercosur countries) can help us end the suffering of the Palestinian people and reach a peace agreements between Palestine and Israel," Maliki said at the ceremony.
The Mercosur nations along with Venezuela -- currently in the process of joining the trade bloc -- all recognized the Palestinian state over the past year.
The Palestinians have free trade agreements with the European Union, Turkey, and all Arab nations, while Mercosur has a free trade agreement with Israel also came into effect in March.